By Ray Hamill — For a small school program, the South Fork Cubs have lofty ambitions in boys soccer this year.
“We’re going to win state,” head coach Kelly Paine said with a chuckle earlier this week, after watching his team pull out an impressive 1-1 tie against the McKinleyville Panthers.
Unfortunately for the Cubs, there’s no way they’ll be able to achieve that goal. There is no fall state championship in boys soccer.
But that doesn’t mean they aren’t turning heads, and this year’s team has been batting above its weight so far and making some serious noise in the H-DNL.
Which leaves them on the verge of achieving their other goal this season.
“We hope to beat a Big 5 school, that’s our goal,” Paine said. “And we’re close.”
The Cubs certainly have been close, tying a talented McKinleyville team on Wednesday, one week after barely losing to Arcata 2-0, the same Arcata team that pushed six-time defending league champion Fortuna all the way this week.
The South Fork boys emergence as a legitimate threat to the bigger schools is the story of the early season in local soccer.
They play defensively, and they play it well.
The Cubs, who also beat Laytonville 6-0 earlier this week, are now 2-3-1, and quickly winning the admiration of other H-DNL coaches.
“They play with heart, South Fork does,” McKinleyville head coach Ryne Deppe said. “They always play really well at their home.”
Key to the potential success of this year’s team will be the play of senior Jayden Paine and junior Cameron Messenger, each of whom have been anchoring the middle of the lineup, either in defense or midfield,
According to the head coach, his players’ versatility is a big part of their game plan.
“We move them around all the time,” Kelly Paine said. “We don’t have a lot of kids, so we have to be able to play all over the field.”
More important, the players seem to believe in the system.
“This year’s team, I believe, has bought into what we’re doing,” the coach said. “We’ve been pushing really hard, and practicing really hard.
“Everybody wants to be there, and everybody’s trying really hard.”
Another key to their early success has been the play of sophomore goalie Logan Hobbs, who was all-league as a freshman and has been in top form again through the early going this season.
Senior Sterling York also has been a big contributor early on, particularly in defense, alongside sophomore Kobe Gellman, who has been one of the Cubs’ most reliable players.
Leading the attack, as well as playing plenty of defense, juniors Azul Graham and Ethan Kulchin have both also played a big role for the team this season.
“It’s just a bunch of good athletes who really haven’t played a lot of soccer, and really our goal is to go out there and have fun,” Kelly Paine said.
Kulchin, as well as teammate Tanner Curran, each scored twice in a 7-0 win over Laytonville on Monday, a result that will help the Cubs’ NCS cause.
The Cubs will play a third straight home league game on Saturday, when they host high-flying Fortuna.