Sports

Playoffs are the goal

Central Kitsap’s reloading after the most successful soccer season in school history.

Olympic’s senior-dominated team is refocusing and determined to put together a successful season of its own.

And Klahowya’s rebounding from an 0-17 season while playing mostly Class 3A and 4A competition in the now defunct Olympic League.

“Last year we didn’t really think we could win,” Klahowya coach Troy Oelschlager said. “We knew it was a rebuilding year.”

The Eagles return most of their starting defenders and their confidence is on the rise, knowing they’ll be playing schools their own size in the 2A Nisqually League.

“It’s very reasonable that we should end up with a playoff spot,” Oelschlager said. “Six of us get in. I think we’ll be a middle-of-the-pack team ... if we can find ways to score goals.”

Two-year starters Jacob Greenwalt and Scott Rants, along with goalkeeper Justin Wick, anchor Klahowya’s defense.

After two games, Oelschlager was still looking for “somebody to step up and take charge for us,” on offense.

Oelschlager, who coached the Klahowya girls to a state title and had the boys in the playoffs two years ago, said it takes a combination of speed and ball control to be a goal scorer. “We have players who are fast and some who have ball control, but none that have the combination of the two,” he said.

Olympic has the talent to be successful at both ends of the field. They did a year ago, too, but the Trojans never jelled after losing Brian Meherg with a knee injury and wound up a disappointing third in the Olympic League.

“The kids expected more success last year,” said coach Steve Haggerty, who’s been running the Olympic program since its inception in 1981. “They’re coming back with more discipline and focus this year. They’re mostly seniors and they know they want to go out with a good year. We’ve got the same personnel, but attitude-wise, we’re better.”

Meherg blew his knee in the first half of Olympic’s first game a year ago, but he’s back, better than ever, said Haggerty.

“Brian’s got such good vision,” Haggerty said of the midfielder who was voted team captain. “He played quarterback when he was at Fairview, and he’s kind of got that field vision that good quarterbacks have. He can see the passes and he’s got the skill to execute the passes he sees. And this year he’s working harder than ever supporting runs and supporting teammates.”

Joel Nelson, Olympic’s leading scorer a year ago, is one of the most explosive players in the league. “He has the ability to accelerate with the ball,” Haggerty said. “He’s a passionate type of individual. He needs to keep it under control. Sometimes (his emotions) are misguided.”

Nelson and Meherg aren’t the only weapons. Paul Struwe and John Hoogestraat, who’s dangerous in the air, compliment Meherg in the midfield. Dan Dreany and Kevin Miller also have the ability to score.

Andrew Nelson, Ryan Butts, Toby Ligon and goalkeeper Adam Paulin are among the defensive standouts.

“We’ve got the potential to be one of the top teams in the league,” Haggerty said. “But this league (Narrows Bridge Division) is a lot tougher. We gave up Sequim and Port Townsend, but we pick up Gig Harbor and South Kitsap. That’s two very good teams. Our goal is to get one of the four (playoff) spots.”

That’s Central Kitsap’s goal, too.

The Cougars lost nine players and their coach (Jason Visintainer) from the team that won its first league title and advanced to the quarterfinals of the state 4A tournament.

New coach Rob Cole, who teaches in the Central Kitsap School District at PineCrest Elementary, didn’t see any of Central’s games last spring. He was offered videos to scrutinize, but turned them down.

“When I came in, I wanted to give everybody a clean slate,” Cole said. “I didn’t want any bias.”

The Shelton native said he’ll lean on his nucleus of seniors to lead the way while he implements a new system.

“I think they will rise to the occasion because I’m putting pressure on them pretty hard at practice,” Cole said.

Senior Nick Van Buecken, a first-team all-league defender a year ago, is Central’s “tactical captain,” said Cole. “He does a good job running the field from the back. He knows how to run the sweeper position.”

Teammates voted another defender, senior Jesse Richards, as the other captain.

“He’s more of a nurturing kind of captain,” Cole said. “It’s like a mom-and-dad situation from a peer perspective. Together, they make a great team.”

Senior Brandon Rust, who had three goals after three games, and junior Brandon Screen have been CK’s top offensive threats. Sophomore Keith Cain, a midfielder who started as a freshman, has impressed Cole with his poise and ability to distribute the ball.

Another freshman, Kyle Stroh, might make an impact this year. Stroh scored four goals in a junior varsity game and Cole plans to give him some varsity time.

Cole’s also trying to find a home for Ben Goodwin, a 5-foot-4 sophomore.

“He’s very fast and doesn’t run out of gas,” Cole said. “He just keeps going.”

Cole’s also high on Trevor Lang, a sophomore goalkeeper who backs up senior Andrew Floro and has the skill to play forward.

“I think we’re right up there as far as skill and leadership is concerned,” Cole said when asked how he thought the Cougars would do. “I think we’ll give the teams in our league a good run for their money.

“Last year, they weren’t supposed to rise to the top, but look what they did.”

He’ll know more after this week. Central played at league favorite Gig Harbor on Tuesday, March 19 and faces Olympic on Thursday, March 21 at Silverdale Stadium.

AT A GLANCE

OLYMPIC TROJANS

Coach — Steve Haggerty (22nd year).

Last year — 9-5-2 (3rd in Olympic League).

This year — 3-0, 1-0 Narrows League Bridge Division through March 18 (beat Port Townsend 7-0, Klahowya 4-1 and Bremerton 2-0).

Top returners — Brian Meherg, M, sr.; Adam Paulin, GK, sr.; Ryan Butts, D, sr.; John Hoogestraat, M, jr.; Paul Struwe, F/M, sr.; Joel Nelson, F, sr.; Andrew Nelson, D, sr.; Andy Hart, M, sr.; Dan Dreany, F., so.

Top newcomers — Kevin Miller, M, sr.; Tyler Southard, M, jr.; Toby Ligon, D, sr.; James Roberts, D., jr.

CENTRAL KITSAP COUGARS

Coach — Rob Cole (1st year).

Last year — 16-2-1 (league champion, reached state 4A quarterfinals).

This year — 1-1-1, 0-0 Narrows League through March 18 (beat Foss 4-0, lost to Stadium 4-1, tied North Kitsap 0-0).

Top returners — Jesse Richards, D, sr.; Brandon Screen, F, sr.; Brandon Rust, F, sr.; Andrew Floro, GK, sr.; Sam Berni, D, sr.; Nick Van Buecken, D, sr.; Shane Powell, D/M, sr.; Chris Taylor, M/F, sr.; Keith Cain, M, so.

Top newcomers — Ben Goodwin, M/D/F, so.; Oscar Svendensen, M/F, sr.; Kyle Stroh, F, fr.; Trevor Lang, GK/F, so.

KLAHOWYA EAGLES

Coach — Troy Oelschlager (5th year).

Last year — 0-17.

This year — 0-2 (lost 8-0 to Bainbridge and 4-1 to Olympic). Opened Nisqually League play at Port Townsend on Tuesday, March 19.

Top returners — Charlie Hodder, M, sr.; Kevin Broga, M, sr.; Jacob Greenwalt, D, sr.; Cody Allen, M, so.; Scott Rants, D, sr.; Justin Wick, GK, jr.

Top newcomers — Elias Cook, D, fr.; Ryan George, M, so.

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