Early tests are in store

Moscow-Pullman Daily News/Kai EiseleinIdaho defender Kayleigh Frederick kicks the ball during a drill last week in the Kibbie Dome. Frederick, a third-team All-Big Sky performer in 2018, will be key for the Vandals when they open the season Friday at home against one of the nation’s top scorers last season, Raimee Sherlee, and Boise State.

The Idaho-Boise State rivalry might be on hold in the worlds of basketball and football, but that’s far from the case for the programs’ soccer teams.

The Vandals kick off their season against the Broncos at 7 p.m. Friday at the Kibbie Dome. Admission to all UI soccer games is free.

The game marks the seventh consecutive season the teams have played, with the Broncos owning a 4-1-1 edge.

“I have a ton of respect for Boise State, with their coaching staff and what they do,” second-year Idaho coach Jeremy Clevenger said. “They have one of the best forwards in the country (in Raimee Sherle). She’s going to be a handful.”

The Vandals will be tasked with slowing down Sherle, who tied for the national lead in goals a year ago with 20.

But Boise State isn’t the only daunting team on Idaho’s nonconference docket. The Vandals play host to Mississippi State of the Southeastern Conference on Sept. 1. The Bulldogs were an NCAA tournament team last season, falling in the first round.

The game marks the first time an SEC opponent will play in Moscow.

“To have that type of team come into the Dome is pretty special,” Clevenger said. “Another exciting game.”

Clevenger said he hopes the tough nonconference schedule will set the Vandals up well for Big Sky play.

Idaho is hoping to build off Clevenger’s first season at the helm after going 9-7-3 last season. The Vandals ended their season on a five-game unbeaten streak before falling to Northern Colorado in the Big Sky semifinal round.

Clevenger took over last season for former coach Derek Pittman, who left for the University of Texas-San Antonio.

“I really like our team,” Clevenger said. “I think we have a ton of talent. I think this is a year, compared to last year ... we have a little more depth at each position. A lot of freshmen coming in — a lot of quality, and they’re fitting in with the team right away.”

The Vandals return first-team All-Big Sky forward Myah Merino as the focal point of the offense.

The 5-foot-2 California product was the only non-senior forward or midfielder to make the all-conference first team in 2018. She led the Vandals with five goals, the biggest an overtime winner against Idaho State.

“Everyone’s pretty excited,” Merino said. “We worked really hard this summer to get fit and get our touches back, so I think that we all have a really good feeling about our first game and we have ... a new wave of talent, so that’s really exciting for us.”

Also back are second-team all-conference midfielder Hadley Sbrega and third-team defender Kayleigh Frederick.

However, the Vandals must replace first-teamers in defender Kelly Dopke and goalie Makayla Presgrave.

Senior Julia Byerlein and redshirt freshman Avrie Fox are battling for starting goalkeeper duties. True freshman Brooklyn Hawkins also is in the mix. Clevenger said he’s not ready to name a starter.

“We have the talent in the goal,” he said. “We’ll try to protect them as best we can, but I think we have three good goalkeepers.”

In total, the Vandals bring in 12 newcomers to go along with 15 returning letterwinners. The talent is there, Clevenger said, but getting everyone up to speed is the biggest priority early in the season.

A slow start in UI’s lone exhibition resulted in a 2-1 loss to Fraser Valley of Abbotsford, B.C.

Fraser Valley scored two goals in the first five minutes before the Vandals settled in.

“It was a game that definitely started slow ... It’s not maybe a tactical thing, it’s a mental thing and it was a good lesson,” Clevenger said. “I don’t think we’ll ever have (to learn) that lesson again.“

“From there on, I think we showed some good things and our young players stepped in and played well.”

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