Sports

Boys soccer squad future full of potential for South End

South Whidbey had a championship team this year, and it was a spring sport.

Not baseball. Not softball. Not tennis.

Falcon soccer’s junior varsity squad claimed a conference crown with a stellar 15-1 record. The JV Falcons swept every team and split matches with the Archbishop Murphy Wildcats, including the finale to secure the unofficial Cascade Conference junior varsity title. South Whidbey won it in convincing fashion, too, with a 3-0 victory.

“There’s no question in my mind that we have the athletes to compete with any of these schools,” said Falcon junior varsity coach Emerson “Skip” Robbins.

His opinion carries some weight. Robbins has coached in the Puget Sound area for more than 25 years (longer than this reporter’s been alive).

Robbins guided the young Falcons to their 15-1 record, as well as helping the varsity team with some new formations. This year, the Falcons used a flat back four formation for its defense, and it worked for both the varsity and JV squads early in the season. The varsity Falcons played five shutout matches to open the season 4-1 (the loss was on penalty kicks in overtime against Coupeville). South Whidbey’s third-place varsity team allowed 23 goals all season, the third fewest behind Archbishop Murphy (two goals) and Cedarcrest (19).

“They used to play a diamond back. . . it’s a narrower formation and if you get the stopper caught up high, then it’s pretty easy to get through the remaining three defenders,” Robbins said.

“At some point, everybody’s responsible. Everybody plays defense.”

All of the Falcons’ quick adjustments to the new defense gave them the advantage over their peers.

“They’re very coachable,” said Falcon head coach Joel Gerlach. “They adjusted to a new system and were able to capitalize on that.”

Here’s the kicker: South Whidbey’s junior varsity team scored 90 goals. That’s an average of 5.6 goals per match, which is a lot of scoring for a 7-year-old’s recreation soccer game, and a surprising amount for high school.

Kai da Rosa led the way as the Falcons’ leading scorer with 15 goals, including two in the final match against the Wildcats. Da Rosa was only one of five Falcons who scored 10 or more goals this season. The others were midfielder Jeff Maier (13), midfielder Davin Kesler (13), Adam Baesler (12) and Jack Bruemmer (10). South Whidbey’s assists leaders were Maier with seven, Kesler with seven, da Rosa with six, Andy Zisette with six and Oliver Saunsaucie with five.

“What do you do to keep the score down? One of the choices is to pull players off the field. To me, that’s not a choice,” Robbins said. “The second choice is to pull your scoring players back as the score gets up. That’s what I did.”

The Falcons netted that many goals without one of their leading forwards most of the season. James Itaya suffered a broken clavicle early and was sidelined the rest of the matches.

Oh yeah, South Whidbey only allowed two goals. All season. Freshman Charlie Stelling, who was added to the varsity roster during the Falcons’ district playoff run as a backup, protected the goal for the championship team.

“I’m not going to take any credit on that. I think Skip did all that on his own,” Gerlach said.

Though he had a handful of playmakers, Robbins insisted each player was vital to the team’s success. He even elected to forgo team awards. There was no JV most valuable player, most inspirational or coach’s awards.

“Everybody makes contributions,” Robbins said. “Maybe that sounds cliche or corny, but I’m a big believer in that.”

The buzz has built for a couple of years with this group of freshmen and sophomores, who have played together for several years leading to their first match as Falcons. As part of the South Whidbey Youth Football Club, a large contingent of players on the junior varsity team have plenty of field time together, and the Falcons’ coaches said the chemistry that developed playing for youth coaches Terry Swanson and Eric da Rosa showed.

“I could tell in the first hour of tryouts that these kids had a good touch on the ball,” Robbins said.

Lots of work remains for the Falcons before their crowning achievement can be realized. Robbins emphasized the continuation of year-round soccer, and more importantly, getting as many of the Falcons to play for the same team as possible.

“In a nine-week high school season, a coach can only make so much of a difference,” he said.

“If you can get guys playing at a higher level, if you can get them playing nine months, year round, and you can get them playing together, you’re going to have success.”

The correlation between a championship junior varsity season and a chance at a state title can be loose. South Whidbey’s parents, players and coaches are hoping the group of young Falcons can ride their talents past a conference crown and into the state playoffs.

“I think that we’ve got a really good future ahead of us when we drop to 1A,” Gerlach said. “I think we’ll make it to the playoffs and to state for the next few years.”

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