U-15 soccer team places second in Bigfoot Tournament

Front row: Erik Haugen

South Whidbey’s U-15 soccer team finished second in the Silver Division at the Snohomish Bigfoot Tournament that was held from Aug. 19-22 at Stocker Fields.

The team, coached by Ben Rusch and Bob O’Brien, played five games in four days while battling through 90-degree temperatures. South Whidbey went 2-1-1, with its lone loss coming at the hands of Crossfire Select Luna 02 in the finals match. South Whidbey lost 4-0.

Rusch felt the team performed better than expected. South Whidbey was roughed up in a tournament the weekend prior, which made the second place finish all the more sweet.

“We went into this tournament without expectations and things just started falling into place,” Rusch said. “And the best thing about it is the guys never quit or gave up. They started playing harder when we were down.”

Joey Lane, a 14-year-old center defender, said it had been a while since the team had found success in a tournament and that the entire team was impressed by its performance. Things started clicking when South Whidbey opened the tournament with a 2-0 win over Newport FC Barca BU15.

Because South Whidbey had played advanced teams in higher division levels the weekend prior, the team expected to face the same level of competition in Snohomish.

“We were not expecting to do super well in this tournament,” Lane said. “We started to realize these guys aren’t out of our league.”

South Whidbey tied Crossfire Select CFS BO2 Toon 1-1 in its second match on Saturday. Rusch said it was one of the more fiercely contested matches he’s seen, and that parents from other teams told him how exciting the game had been.

“It was a true soccer game where people got excited whether there was scoring or not,” Rusch said.

In its third game played on Sunday, South Whidbey defeated Lake Hills Inferno BO2 3-1 to advance past the group stage to the semifinals. Aidan Donnelly, a 13-year-old striker, felt the team was at its best during the match. Donnelly said South Whidbey was dominant with its possessions while relentlessly pressuring Lake Hills on its half of the field.

“It felt really great because we went from losing every single game to winning almost all of them,” Donnelly said.

In the semifinals, South Whidbey defeated Issaquah FC Select Red 2-0. Andrew Curtis scored both of South Whidbey’s goals on free kicks. The two goals were nearly identical to each other and were scored from roughly 35 to 40 yards out, Rusch said.

“He can just hit the ball really well,” Rusch said.

In the finals match, South Whidbey was outgunned by a superior team, Rusch said. Because Crossfire pools its players based on ability, Rusch said the playing field was uneven.

“I hate to blame losing on one thing, but it was a bit of an unfair match,” Rusch said. “It’s really expensive to be part of, so they have to keep clientele happy.”

Rusch was most impressed with how the team performed tactically. South Whidbey utilized its speed at the striker position to keep its opponents at bay, while keeping the midfield open for side-to-side movement.

“When you do that, it keeps the game at a manageable pace and makes the other team run to keep up,” Rusch said.

In the end, the biggest X factor was the team’s willingness to listen and try new things during a game, Rusch said.

It was the second consecutive weekend Rusch coached a team to second place. He recently coached South Whidbey’s U-19 team, FC Wild, which finished second at the Redapt Cup held in Redmond.