SANDPOINT The Bulldog boys soccer team getting to state used to be a foregone conclusion, a right of passage en route to winning state title after state title once the sport became officially sanctioned in Idaho in 2000.
But with the proliferation of club soccer in North Idaho, programs like Lakeland and Moscow are much improved and have managed to score some huge upset wins in the district championship game in recent years.
So the No. 1 seed Bulldogs (11-1-2) are fully aware that to win a state title, they must first get to state, which will be determined today against No. 2 seed Moscow in the 4A Region 1 boys soccer championship at 3:30 p.m. at Pine St. Field.
First year coach Evan McNeley has stewarded a senior-laden and talent-rich squad to success, including a 3-0-1 record in league play to earn a first round bye and right to host todays championship.
In head to head matchups against the Bears, Sandpoint won 2-0 and tied 0-0, so both teams will feel like they have a shot to punch their ticket to state today. The Bears, who also have a stingy defense, scored a 1-0 win over Lakeland on Tuesday in the loser-out game.
Mac Stultz leads the Bulldogs with nine goals and six assists, while Noah Hastings has five goals and six assists to spearhead an attack that has seen a whopping 14 players find the back of the net.
Tanner Kohal has five assists from his sweeper position, and sets a physical tone to anchor a defense with Max Edmundson and Terron Tvrdy that has proven stingy and tough to penetrate. Julian Reichold has eight shutouts in goal, no small accomplishment on a schedule featuring nine 5A opponents out of 14 games.
The winner advances to the state tournament, starting Thursday in Caldwell.