May 9, 2017 - By Scott Akanewich, Sports EditorClass 3-A No. 1-ranked Lander will visit No. 2 Riverton in a soccer showdown.
It's a game which means nothing.
But, of course, it also means everything.
When Riverton hosts Lander at Wolverine Field at 7 p.m. Tuesday, the two top boys soccer squads in Class 3-A will face each other in what could be a preview of the Class 3-A state championship game.
By the way, it's also the Fremont County derby, where records don't matter.
However, both clubs have already qualified for the state tournament in Sheridan, by way of each squad's respective conference title.
The Wolverines clinched the Class 3-A Southwest with a 2-0 home victory against Star Valley on April 29, while the Tigers had a much more perilous path to their Class 3-A Southeast crown.
Lander was forced to play five games in nine days to close the regular season after several weather postponements earlier in the season.
The fifth of those contests is Tuesday's road match against the Wolverines.
But, first, head coach Dean Schaff's squad had to negotiate a fixture list more crowded than a California freeway at rush hour, culminating with back-to-back wins Thursday and Friday over Torrington and Rawlins to clinch a share of the league title with the Trailblazers.
Due to both teams' equal 2-0 record with no goals conceded against the Outlaws, a coin flip was needed for the Tigers to book their place in Sheridan, which they won.
So, neither side has anything to gain in terms of standings or playoff position by beating the other on Tuesday -- other than Fremont County bragging rights and perhaps the mental edge of having defeated the other before their potential meeting in Sheridan.
Lander (10-2-1, 3-1 Class 3-A Southeast) beat Riverton, 1-0, at the Pinnacle Challengers' Cup in Worland on April 8, but that was in a shortened game within that tournament's framework.
Also, both teams are vastly different since that meeting.
As in better.
Riverton (9-3-2, 3-0-1 Class 3-A Southwest) has won six straight games, outscoring the opposition 15-1 during that span, while Lander has also been on a roll, winning eight on the bounce, scoring 38 goals and conceding just six.
Do the math, and you have a combined 14-game winning streak and a 53-7 aggregate score.
So, there will be plenty of firepower on display under the lights Tuesday night.
Riverton is led by Reed Axthelm. He, Nic Fenton and Slade Becker form a potent strike force up front for head coach Aziz Waheed's side, while the midfield is controlled by Evan White and Kevin Schmidt, in front of a solid, mobile defense, which includes Sam Shepardson and Jason Thoren patrolling the back line in front of goalkeeper Shawn Curtain, who has stepped into the Riverton goal without missing a beat since replacing Becker, who was moved up front.
Lander's danger man up top is Daniel Lobera, who has 18 goals on the current campaign, but he's certainly not alone in the Tigers' prolific attack.
Jed Welsh, Breven Nicol and Tony Schaff have come alive for Lander, giving the Tigers balanced scoring in front of a solid defense, with goalkeeper Abe Lowham keeping opposing offenses off the board.
The Lady Wolverines will host the Lander girls at 5 p.m. and will feature a pair of much-improved squads.
Lander (6-5, 4-0 Class 3-A Southeast) has won four consecutive contests and have also clinched a berth in the state tournament under first-year head coach Gabe Joyes.
Freshman Abby Renner leads the line for the Lady Tigers, alongside fellow strikers Kiley McConnell and Autumn Hnilicka.
Controlling the midfield is senior Zoe Peterson, whose excellent hold-up play has been critical in Lander's offense, which has scored 10 goals over the past four games.
Lander's girls have traveled the same rough road as their male counterparts, with a glut of games in a short period of time and have emerged a dangerous, hungry squad as a result.
Riverton (4-10, Class 3-A Southwest) already faces a play-in game at Worland on Saturday against Torrington to determine state tournament destiny.
Cydney Bradley leads the Lady Wolverines with six goals on the season, while Alexxis Motisi, Grace Miller, Errolyn Adams and Elliott Stafford have also scored for head coach Tanya Santee's side.
Goalkeeper Madyson Pantle is second in Class 3-A with 142 saves on the season.
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