Local soccer squads hope to expand upon last year’s successes

March 20, 2012

By Matt Carstens

If there is one consistent element to KingCo soccer year in and year out, it is the pure strength of the league.

“The league’s always tough,” Issaquah head coach Jason Lichtenberger said. “It’s the toughest league in the state, hands down.”

Last season, three teams from the conference qualified for the state tournament and they only lost to other KingCo teams. Garfield lost to Eastlake, who met with Skyline in the finals.

“A lot of leagues you’ll see some pretty strong teams, but there’s also some teams at the bottom that are a little bit weaker,” Lichtenberger said. “But in KingCo, every game’s a battle. The last-place teams beat the first-place teams, if they were to play 10 times, maybe a couple times that last-place team would beat the first-place team, and I don’t think there’s any other league where you’d see that. You just can’t take a game off.”

Continuing the streak

The past three years for the Issaquah High School boys soccer program has been nothing but one success after another, including an incredible 17-game winning streak at home.

“For the last three years, we’ve kind of had the greatest run in the school’s history, which has been a fun three years for us,” Lichtenberger said.

Lichtenberger, in his seventh year as head coach, said he is excited about the constant improvement his program has showed since he took over.

“When I first took over, we had a few down years,” he said. “But we went from three wins in 2008 to 13 wins in 2009 and went to the state tournament for the first time ever and got to the quarterfinals in 2010.”

After losing quite a few seniors after the 2010 season, Lichtenberger said most people expected the team to slow down and have a down year. It ended up going 12-3-3 and made it to the second round of the conference tournament again.

“That was a real nice year for us,” he said. “We had some players recognized as all league, we got coach of the year for that as well, and we’re returning a lot of guys from that team as well.”

Some key players to watch for on Issaquah’s squad this year include junior forward Cooper Fry, junior midfielder Zach Lawless, junior defensemen Paul Hegedus and junior midfielder David Perez.

“Paul Hegedus is going to be key for us,” Lichtenberger said. “He was on J.V. last year but got called up at the end of the season and actually ended up starting the last couple games and in the playoffs as well. So we saw him grow a lot as a player last year, and he’ll be one of our vocal leaders in the backfield this year.”

According to Lichtenberger, new addition Perez will provide not only great skills, but a cerebral view of the game as well.

Lichtenberger said his possession style is part of what has led to the team’s success in recent years and he sees no reason to change what it has been doing.

“We work on a lot of short passing,” he said. “We look to switch the field quite a bit, we look to control possession. There are some teams that play really direct and put a lot of pressure on, but we like to build out of the back and control the ball and maybe get teams to chase us a little bit and frustrate them that way.

“It’s tough because we don’t have a lot of time to prepare, and to play that style you need a lot of time to practice together, but we seem to pull it off pretty well.”

One more goal

After losing in the state finals last year and losing several seniors to Division I programs, Skyline head coach Don Braman is looking to refuel his team in order to get over that last hump.

“Last year’s second place in state was our best result in school history,” Braman said. “We have finished four times in the top eight in state and that last year was our first time in the state semis and we won against Stadium.”

After passing 100 career wins in his 15th year, Braman said he is confident his returning players will be able to drive his team far into the state tournament.

“I really like the core we have back. It’s essentially the engine that drove us through the playoffs,” he said.

That core incudes senior midfielders Pedro Miola, Austin Dodd, Cole Calabro and defender Evan Botsch, all of which are the teams captains.

One player Braman would like to have is James Molyneux-Elliot who is playing for the Sounders academy program. Despite his ineligibility to play high school soccer, Molyneux-Elliot is helping out as an assistant coach.

“On one hand, I feel like he’s being robbed from some of the experience,” Braman said. “But I’m glad he wants to be part of our program, and we want to use his brain and his ability to help other players be better in our program. So he’s investing in our program in a great way. We appreciate it and like him a lot.”

KingCo is tough top to bottom

KingCo 4A isn’t the only conference that’s tough. Liberty head coach Darren Tremblay gave the example of last year’s Interlake team, which finished dead last in KingCo 3A, and then went to 2A and made a deep run in the playoffs.

“Top to bottom, it’s probably the deepest league in the state possibly,” Tremblay said. “There’s just no gimmies, that’s for sure.”

Tremblay said he thinks the leagues are so difficult in this area just because of the pure concentration of talent in youth soccer.

“Youth soccer is so big, it has been for the last 10 to 15 years,” Tremblay said. “It’s coming through now. There’s so many kids that play youth soccer, club and high school — everybody just seems to be pretty good, at least in this area.”

Tremblay’s team is pretty young, but that’s not always a bad thing.

“We’ve got a really good freshman group,” he said. “This year, two of them are on varsity, possibly a third. We’ve got four or five on J.V. that are really good young soccer players. We’ve got a good group coming in. We’ve got a good junior class returning. We’re hoping to be strong this year, but like I said, it’s hard to say until you get into that league play and figure it out.”

Offensively, some players to look out for include junior forward Josh Johnson and freshman forward Connor Noblat.

Connor’s “definitely proven himself,” Tremblay said. “He has one goal this year, but he plays very physical, has a great shot, great feet. He’s a nice freshman surprise for us up front.”

In the backfield most of the defensive unit has returned. Tremblay looks for Joe Dapper to anchor the defense for Liberty.

As far as the style of the team goes, Tremblay said people should think finesse.

“We’re definitely a finesse team, sometimes too much,” he said. “Sometimes we try to get too cute, so we need to know when to get it out of there … we can play physical. We try to keep it on the ground as much as we can.”

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