"Yes, Oly, there is a second round"
June 11, 2008 · Updated 4:43 PM
"There's a lot of tradition involved with the Olympic High School boys soccer team. Not all of it is welcome.The Trojan boys annually are at or near the top of the league standings, and are close to a fixture in the first round of the state tournament.It's what happens after the first round that makes the Trojans wince. What happens is ... nothing. All those years in the first round, and there never has been a second round.That's the thing we'd really like to do this year, says junior midfielder Brian Meherg, is end that tradition of going out in the first round.Meherg is one of many compelling reasons that coach Steve Haggerty's Trojans could be right back in the state playoffs come mid-May. With him sidelined last spring by a back injury, they still earned one of the Olympic League's two Class 4A berths - only to absorb a 4-1 beating from Rogers of Puyallup in the latest chapter of their loathsome first-round history.A starter as a freshman, Meherg is part of a nucleus of Class of 2002 players who should be the engine room of this year's team. That group includes, in all, seven players from the FC Kitsap Arsenal U-17 team coached by Meherg's dad, Mike, and two others from the younger elite Kitsap team, Ballistic.That'll help, Meherg says of the group from Arsenal, a team which stormed through the state U-17 Premier 2 division undefeated last fall and winter. A lot of us have played together for four years now, and we all know each other's strengths and weaknesses.They also know that Oly's consistent standing as one of the league's best teams will get them diddly once they venture into the postseason. Trips to prestigious youth tournaments the last couple of years have shown them the kind of stiff competition the Trojans don't get day in and day out in the multiclassification Olympic League.Brian and the rest of those kids probably play 80 games a year against better competition, says Olympic coach Steve Haggerty. They understand how you've got to play to be successful against that level.It's more of a mental thing, says Meherg, whose back was healthy enough after a four months of rest to play in every game for Arsenal during its most recent summer-fall season. You just have to be prepared to run the whole time, to play hard every minute. If you relax for a minute, that's when they'll beat you.Haggerty thinks the key to state success this year will be capturing the Olympic League championship, and the No. 1 qualifying berth that accompanies it. While his team was bowing in the first round to the No. 3 seed from the powerful South Puget Sound League last spring, league topknot Port Angeles got a much easier opening seed, and first-round home game ... and advanced all the way to the 4A championship game.Of course, in all their years of trying, it never has mattered before to the Trojans which seed they go into the playoffs with - it's always them that ends up getting planted.Those leagues (like the SPSL, which along with the Tacoma Narrows League supplies the bulk of the West Central District opposition - in effect, the first round of state) are tougher, says Meherg. There's tough competition every day.To be ready, the Trojans will have to build momentum by getting through a league that runs the gamut from state finalist PA (still tough this season despite being gutted by graduation) to game 2A entrants Klahowya and Port Townsend.We look pretty good on paper, Haggerty says, but if you played the games on paper, you'd never have to line the field. This league has some tough challenges. If people think they're going to make it just because they show up, they're gonna get surprised.Central Kitsap, a middle-of-the-pack finisher last year, looks to be one of the teams poised to move up a few steps in the standings, while Klahowya will struggle to maintain its pack status after losing significantly to graduation. Bremerton, last year's door-closer, is hungry to move out of the cellar. "