Sports Stories

One local youth soccer team has been taking its competition by storm in 2017. That team is the Verde Valley Vipers, an Under-12 boys American Youth Soccer Organization team that currently holds a 13-2 record.

The Vipers won their first three tournaments, a total of 12 games, of the season that began in February. They suffered their first losses at the River Daze tournament in Bullhead City.

“We were humbled last weekend,” assistant coach Darrin Karuzas said. “But we probably played our best soccer. It was a really good test for the team.”

Verde Valley School coach Andy Gill is the team’s head coach.

The team’s third game of the tournament was a 4-3 loss that Karuzas said was “one where you have a lot of chances and you miss a lot of chances.”

What sets the Vipers, a collection of players from Camp Verde, Cottonwood, the Village of Oak Creek and West Sedona, apart from other teams of that age group is its tactical ability. Instead of a typical formation that has three defenders sitting back and four attackers up front with space between them and the midfield, this team moves up and down the field as a unit.

Two goalkeepers take turns putting on the gloves: Conner Strubbe and Reis Stevens, and also hold their own when playing in the field.

“They’re leading the platoon in goal and doing well,” Karuzas said.

That duo plus the defensive trio of Max Metzger, Caleb Bahe and Finley Gill make up a dependable unit that has given up 22 goals so far.

Offensively, there are several contributing Vipers: Luis Esqueda, Carson Karuzas and Max Schwartz. The team is glued together by its midfield, headed up by Kevin Beltran, the “conductor” and defensive midfielder Korbin Burke, one of the most consistent players. Through their 15 games, they have scored 81 goals for an average five per game.

Eli Curnutt and McCauley King are utility players who can be plugged in anywhere on the field and the team does not miss a beat.

“The team’s chemistry has grown tournament by tournament, week by week,” Karuzas said. “They’re technically sound and tactically growing, and the combination pays off with good results.”

The Vipers have one tournament left this season, the Mile High tournament in Prescott on April 22 and 23. Karuzas thanks the team’s sponsors for their support in funding the Vipers this season.


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