Sports

Cougar booters rise to the top

"When they looked around the gymnasium at Central Kitsap High School, at the collection of Olympic League championship banners hanging there, veteran boys soccer players noticed - with some dismay - a glaring absence.No soccer, said senior Casey Sullivan, who's been the Cougars' starting goalkeeper for three years. We've been talking all year about doing something about that.Tuesday night, the Cougars fulfilled a season-long goal. Their 4-1 victory over Bremerton on the home carpet at Silverdale Stadium scooted them past Port Angeles at the finish line of the league season and into their first-ever league championship.Thus, a gaping hole on the gym wall is filled.Finally, senior captain John Anderson said, boys soccer is represented in there.The first-place finish also earned the Cougars (14-1-1) their first crack at the postseason. They get a home West Central District playoff today at 1 p.m. against Auburn Riverside (10-5-1), the No. 5 seed from the South Puget Sound League, with the winner advancing on to the 16-team state Class 4A championship bracket.We want to make the second round, Sullivan said, noting that Olympic League entrants are notorious for one-and-out performances in the postseason. That's something nobody in our league has been able to do for a long time.Just to be in the postseason, after being chased by Port Angeles and Olympic through most of the league schedule, is an accomplishment that's not lost on the Cougs' coach, Jason Visintainer.This has been a long time coming, he said after taking the requisite celebratory dousing from his players. We captured first place in our first game, and we never let it go. To stay (atop the standings) was a formidable task - we faced must-win situations time and time again.That came right down to the season's final night against a dangerous Bremerton team bent on playing spoiler. But freshman Keith Cain gave the Cougars an early lead, scoring in the 11th minute, and Anderson more or less sealed the deal with a brilliant goal 19 minutes into the second half. After accepting a pass from Dan Dickinson, he turned and drilled a shot from the top of the penalty box that bent inside the far post, just outside the reach of a diving Bremerton goalie, John Mitchell.What a rip, Knights coach Lance McCoy said of Anderson's shot. That was a heartbreaker. It might be the finest goal we've seen all year.CK added goals by Chris Buhrman and Brian Goldrick in the late stages, but saw Sullivan's shutout bid end on a goal from Jason Gomes in the 75th minute. It would've been the 10th shutout of the season for Sullivan and the Cougar defense.For the past several years, Central Kitsap has ranged from middle-of-the-pack status in the Olympic League to narrowly missing a playoff spot. This year's team, laden with eight seniors weary of their lack of regard around the league.Visintainer said that senior nucleus, and the leadership provided by players like Sullivan, Anderson and sweeper Willie Whitwell, made a huge difference in his team's fortunes this season.We weren't picked to be here, Visintainer said of the league throne room. But we were opportunistic with our season; we utilized our talent to the fullest extent we could. This is an outstanding group, and they believed this was their year.We just wanted it, too, added Whitwell, the hulking roadblock in the middle of Cougar defense that yielded a miserly nine goals in 16 league games. It's the last year of the Olympic League, so this was our last chance.The championship, and the No. 1 district seed, allowed the Cougars to dictate the starting time of today's Silverdale Stadium game, which pleased them - and their prom dates - no end.We might've had to play somewhere else, anywhere from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m., Sullivan said of the difference between the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds. We've got prom that night, so this makes everything easy.While the Cougars say their goal all season was the league title, they admit they might not have believed it possible.At midseason, Coach V asked us if we had thought we'd be in first place, Whitwell remembered. Nobody raised their hand.Tuesday night, though, everybody's hands were in the air - in triumph and in celebration.To have finally arrived, this is another world for them, Visintainer said of his team. But they've deserved it. "

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