More than half of the starting lineup for the South Whidbey boys soccer team was named to the all-Cascade Conference first and second team this season.
Based on a coaches’ vote and backed by statistics kept throughout the season — goals, assists, saves, etc. — three Falcons were voted to the first team and three to the second team. At the head of the pack is junior forward Kai da Rosa, who led the league in points with 19 goals and 11 assists. Also on the first team are junior defender Bryce Auburn and senior midfielder Trey Adams. On the second team are junior defenders Tom Swanson and Anders Bergquist and goalie Charlie Stelling.
A common thread of sacrifice, commitment and persistence permeated each player, according to co-head coach Emerson “Skip” Robbins.
“These guys had a lot of stuff happen, and they never quit,” he said. “They never quit.”
He nearly did, however, early on in the season. Frustrated with what he said was a poor work ethic in practice, and the resulting poor performance in matches, he told the team there would be changes in personnel. The old way of playing guys who put in their time into the program was not going to cut it. It paid off after a 2-1 stunning loss to Coupeville when South Whidbey went 8-2-2 to close out the regular season and secure third place in the league behind Archbishop Murphy and King’s.
A huge part of their success was the early shift of Adams from an outside midfielder to a center back midfielder, essentially a defender in the middle. Adams, one of the team’s three co-captains, started the season by taking a leadership role. During a preseason meeting of the players, he set out a vision of competing in the state tournament and trying to reach the championship match.
“Trey [Adams] came in and put this team on his back,” Robbins said. “He was a phenomenal leader, one of the best captains I’ve ever coached.”
Becoming a leader required Adams to put himself aside for the benefit of the team. Not only did he see less action on the offensive half of the field, he touched the ball less and was often required to be the first line of defense against the other team’s best player.
Adams also made an attitude shift from previous years. In the past, Adams was known for his temper — something to which he readily admits — and willingness to retaliate if he was fouled.
“I’m kind of a hothead,” he said. “If they come out, whether it’s fouling or trash talking, they were gonna get it back.”
But Adams stifled that part of himself so he could stay in the games instead of being pulled out for yellow or red cards. Though in one game, a bit of trash talk pushed him to his limits until Robbins and co-head coach Joel Gerlach noticed and pulled him from the game. In another instance during the playoffs, an opposing player was upset after a foul and got in Adams’ face and pushed him. Even to Adams’ surprise, he walked away.
“The old me probably would have fought him … I was shocked,” he said.
Auburn, a junior who played forward the past two seasons for the Falcons, made a major shift to the defense. No longer was Auburn the player streaking down the sidelines and unleashing his mighty leg on the ball for goals. Rather, he was unloading on the ball to clear it from the defense to the offense. As a co-captain, Auburn said he trusted his coaches and took on the role as a defensive stopper.
“There is a point where you have to switch your values,” he said.
“Skip was telling us what makes a good defender is the will to not quit and the ambition to put the team on your back,” he added.
In a pivotal regular season match against King’s, Auburn cleared what would have been a game-winning goal in the final minutes of regulation. Most of the time, Auburn’s talents were more mundane. As a former forward, Auburn has plenty of speed, which he used to pressure opponents and force them to make a move with the ball or give it up.
“He’s very aggressive, and definitely would have been great [as a forward],” Robbins said. “But we needed his athleticism, his aggressiveness, his skill in the back. I definitely think it was the right choice … He was a very good forward; he’s a great defender.”
South Whidbey’s leading scorer, da Rosa, was a consistent threat for the other teams. His tall, lanky frame made him a difficult matchup for smaller defenders on high balls or headers. His speed kept the goalies on their heels. But it was his knowledge of soccer, of how to respond to defensive formations, how to read a defender’s weaknesses, that gave him an edge.
“I think it really puts me ahead of all the other players,” da Rosa said.
South Whidbey loses four seniors next season: Adams, Jaidin Jones, who was an honorable mention for the all-league teams after scoring 10 goals and three assists, Jack Hood and Calvin Shimada. But the Falcons return a majority of their team, include a pair of honorable mention players in junior Andy Zisette (seven goals, seven assists) and sophomore Lucas Leiberman (12 goals).