The league champion Viking boys’ soccer team finished their most successful season ever making a strong run at the state championship in the final four tournament at Sunset Stadium in Sumner.
The surprisingly large crowd of Orcas fans who traveled to the games were treated to a thrilling semi-final comeback win against south sound champions Evergreen Lutheran on Nov. 16. Many other Orcas supporters were also able to see the matches live streaming on the Orcas Boosters Facebook page, or the live broadcast on the National Federation of Highschool Sports web channel.
“Our main plan of attack coming into the finals was to continue to enforce our ‘build-from-the-back,’ high pressing, controlled passing tactics on our opponents,” said coach Terry Turner. “This ball possession-oriented style was extremely effective for us this season, and led to a lot of goals and a lot of wins.”
But despite this dominant possession in the semi-final first half, Evergreen managed to score two counter-attacking goals against the run of play. As the second half got underway, the Viking squad continued its relentless pressure, visibly exhausting their opponents. Knowing that time would eventually be against them, the Vikings made a tactical change and moved their fastest defender, Ciaran O’Neill from the center to a more forward attacking wing position.
Midway through the second half, the change paid off with O’Neill speeding past his defender on a short chip down the middle from center Levi Moss. With the goalkeeper racing out, O’Neill slotted the ball into the corner of the net for the first comeback goal.
With the clock running down in the second half, Tomas Holmes made a long throw-in to the feet of his teammate Moss who hit a wildly swerving out swinging shot to the far post past a frozen Evergreen goalkeeper to score the tying goal and take the game to overtime and eventually penalty kicks. With the confidence of having proven penalty stopper Kupono Anuenue in the goal, the first five Orcas players neatly put all five shots in the back of the net, and with a single diving stop by Anuenue, the Vikings won the game.
In the state final game against Eastern Washington powerhouse Prescott Academy on Nov. 17, once again the Viking players took the field with the intention of controlling the tactics and tempo of the game and succeeded at maintaining possession and attacked Prescott for most of the half. The contrast in the tactics of two styles of play of the two state finalists were remarkable, Orcas working the ball up the field and side to side patiently with accurate passing and skilled ball control, and Prescott clearing the ball with long downfield boots to their fast-breaking forwards virtually every time they won the ball back. The half finished with a tie score 0-0.
But despite all of Orcas best efforts and skilled play, Prescott eventually scored on a broken play from a corner kick, and with time running output the game away with a second goal on a fast break, with Orcas conceding at the whistle 0-2.
“It was really heartbreaking to lose in the final, with all the incredible hard work, and the high aspirations these guys brought,” Turner said. “After the final, the Prescott coach graciously told us ‘fantastic game. … You guys play the game the way it is supposed to be played!’ It was just a little ironic and a little unexpected to fall to a team that played the long ball and counter attack. But we have nothing to be sorry about, this team played exceptional, exciting and wildly entertaining soccer all season. They stick together and support each other like family. The character and sportsmanship they displayed is unsurpassed.”
When asked about the winning season, and his first season as a full-time high school coach, Orcas’ new assistant Batu Balic reminisced about his best moment in soccer to this point had been his being hired as a professional player at 17 years old in his home country of Turkey, for the club both his father and grandfather had played for, but added: “but this is bigger than that because I helped a team, and 19 families (and a whole island) were proud of their kids … that’s why I’m feeling more proud.”
The mighty Orcas Vikings will be losing five starting players next year, as they are graduating seniors. But the coaching staff is confident and excited about next season.
“This season a lot of great things all came together for us. … Experienced, athletic, skilled players, hard work and preseason preparation, wonderful support from the school and our fans, a great coaching staff, exceptional leadership and character from the players,” Turner said. “One of the best things though was a very strong freshman class, and more great dedicated players to join next year. If the returning team continue to put in the dedication and work in the offseason, and bring the resolve and character they brought this year, the future looks pretty bright for this program. We just have to keep it going!”