Being eliminated from the state 1A boys soccer tournament quarterfinal round in 2014 left much to be desired for the South Whidbey Falcons.
This season’s senior-heavy squad has its sights set on a repeat performance as a minimum, and its appetite wants the final prize: a shot at the state championship.
Of the 15 or so players from the 2014 varsity team, 12 returned. Most of them were starters, and all of them saw significant playing time.
“Most of the guys are seniors, so this is our last time,” said Falcon senior Oliver Saunsaucie, a three-time varsity player.
For all their own and others expectations, their head coaches are maintaining the old cliche of taking the season one game at a time.
Past seasons saw teams that looked too far ahead in the schedule, only to lose a game to a team with a lesser record because the players weren’t focused or did not take it seriously. Avoiding such letdowns will be paramount if South Whidbey wants to secure a top seed in the district and regional playoffs.
“Those guys came in those first two or three weeks and did not take it seriously for some reason,” said Falcon head coach Emerson “Skip” Robbins.
At the start of this season, Robbins laid out his expectations and vision for the players. He told them that this program makes cuts through tryouts, that both the varsity and varsity had excellent records (9-3-2 Cascade Conference, 16-6-2 overall in 2014) the past few seasons, and that he ran a professional-style club. That meant tardiness and laziness would not be accepted.
Yet for all of the burden, the Falcons still have their trademark goofiness, joking throughout drills, laughing together about errant passes or sailing shots on goal.
“There’s always going to be that playfulness,” Saunsaucie said from the sideline of a recent practice while nursing a strained ankle.
South Whidbey’s road to a Cascade Conference title is littered with challengers. Perennial power Archbishop Murphy looks to keep its title, and King’s challenged South Whidbey to a 1-1-1 split, including a 3-2 victory in the District 1 tournament. Two newcomers are also in the 1A league mix: Sultan and Cedar Park Christian.
In the state tournament, South Whidbey realized the kind of competition it would face and have to triumph over to advance. Quincy beat the Falcons 3-2 in overtime in a match that wasn’t nearly as close as the score indicated. Save for a pair of near miraculous last-minute goals by the Falcons, the Jacks controlled the game largely by the talent of one player who picked apart South Whidbey’s zone-man defense.
Robbins admitted the match was a learning point for the coaches, just as much as the players. He said he should have changed his defensive tactic after the first goal, and that he took it as an affront to him as a hard-working coach.
South Whidbey’s primary offensive and defensive players are still on the field. Leading the scoring charge will be senior midfielder Davin Kesler, a wizard with the ball and field vision; junior midfielder Lucas Leiberman, who tallied 12 goals in 2014; seniors Jeff Meier, Andy Zisette; and senior forward Kai da Rosa, who led the league with 19 goals and 11 assists.
Defensively, the Falcons will rely on Saunsaucie, senior Anders Bergquist and junior Lochlan Roberts — all of whom were starters the past season. Their goal, Robbins said, is to make sure senior goalie Charlie Stelling, a second team all-Cascade Conference selection, doesn’t break a sweat.
“We have to be on the front step,” Saunsaucie said. “We have the effort and the capability. We need to believe we can go far.”