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SPRING SPORTS PREVIEW: Falcon soccer makes a new beginning
"It feels like starting over."
Perhaps no one involved with the South Whidbey High School spring sports program has this feeling as strongly as Mark Helpenstell. Only two years after his team rose out of obscurity to place second in the state tournament, the Falcon head coach doesn't have a single player left who knows what a state final feels like.
Eighteen seniors, many of whom set new standards for how the game of soccer is played on South Whidbey, are gone, leaving behind memories and the younger players who backed them up from the bench or on the junior varsity team.
Last year, nine seniors and a handful of underclassmen took the team to the doorstep of the state tournament, only to be upset in district play after compiling the best season record of any Falcon boys soccer team ever.
But two years of winning have built a strong tradition within the ranks of these high school kickers. Isaiah Murphy, a senior defenseman on the team, knows the Falcons still have talent to win -- as long as the team's players keep their eyes and the lines of communication open on the field.
"I believe we have the potential to go to state," he said this week. "We just gotta talk."
Though they are lacking players like graduates Joseph and George Supang and Aaron McCabe, who could dazzle almost any team into submission, the Falcons promise to have a strong scoring attack. With junior striker Adam Jaffe back on the team after he spent last school year in Israel, and Olympic development player Abe Smith-Groening in the starting lineup, Helpenstell said his team will have punch as it wades through its North Cascades Conference competition over the next two months.
Taking over the team's sweeper position from McCabe, who Helpenstell ranked as the team's best all-time defender, is Chris Layman. But even with veteran defensemen Roy Ishii and Murphy at Layman's back, the Falcons' biggest challenge for the 2002 season will be keeping the ball out of their zone. The team's coaching staff is still looking at strong seconds to the defensive starters.
If there is anywhere the team is concentrating its experience, it is in goal. Craig Peterson and Joe Gunn, both of whom played varsity minutes last year, should pick up where 2001 keeper Mike Johnson left off -- shutting down and shutting out the opposition.
Young players who may add their talents to the varsity pool include freshmen Ben Walker, Connor Adams, Kevin Dunigan and Josh Helpenstell.
Expecting to have their hands full with NCC teams such as Lynden Christian, Mount Baker and Sultan, Helpenstell and his players are still trying to guess at the true condition of the competition. For the first time in a couple years, Helpenstell said he has no idea where South Whidbey will wind up in early May.
"I won't make a prediction," he said.
The last time he did was in 2000. During the preseason that year, he said the Falcons would win the state tournament. They placed second.
Soccer action starts today on South Whidbey as a number of teams converge upon Waterman Field for a pre-season jamboree. Play begins at 2 p.m.