Technically, the Stadium High School boys soccer team that takes the field during the Class 4A state semifinals tonight can be called the reigning state champion.
Just don’t say it to the Tigers.
These Tigers bear little resemblance to the ones that last year hoisted the school’s first boys soccer state championship trophy. Gone are the lightning-quick forwards who powered Stadium’s high-octane offense. Just two starters are back from the team that blitzed through the 2010 season with a 19-1 record and outscored teams 64-3.
To that, these Tigers say, “So what?”
The 2011 squad has taken on its own identity and is two victories away from etching its own legacy.
“It’s a totally different team from last year,” defender Jacob Beardemphl said. “(Coach John) Baretta’s been telling us all year that this is not the 2010 team, you have to make your own history. This is the 2011 team.”
Stadium (15-3-0) will meet Skyline (14-2-2) at 8 tonight at Harry E. Lang Stadium. Kentwood (16-1-3) will take on Eastlake (12-3-2) in the other semifinal at 6 p.m. The winners will advance to the championship game at 4 p.m. Saturday and the losers will play for third-place at noon.
Unlike past seasons, Baretta doesn’t see one of the remaining teams being an all-out favorite.
“This year, just like last year, there are four tough teams,” he said. “A lot of teams that should have been here are not here. Beamer, not here. Gig Harbor, not here. Those were my two preseason favorites.”
Way back before the season began, not even Stadium foresaw a return trip the state semifinals.
“Our first expectation was to make it to state,” Beardemphl said. “Maybe we undershot ourselves? We are better than we thought we were.”
Baretta figured he’d have a squad that could push Narrows League 4A favorites Bellarmine Prep and Gig Harbor. When his Tigers toppled the Lions, 3-2, on April 21, he sensed his team was beginning to form something special.
His feelings were confirmed when Stadium surged to a 3-0 first-half lead against Central Kitsap on May 5. The Tigers were explosively efficient on offense and relentless on defense, showing the form of a state-championship contender.
“The way that we played against Central Kitsap for the first 26 minutes is how we played for 77 minutes on Saturday,” he said, referring to Stadium’s 3-1 win against the Chiawana Riverhawks in the state quarterfinals.
Against the Riverhawks, Stadium scored two goals off free kicks. Baretta has stressed the importance of converting scoring opportunities, especially in the postseason.
“I’ve told them in the playoffs you’ll get two or three chances,” he said. “Score two, there’s a good chance you’re going to win. Score one you might go to shootout, and that’s called luck. You score three, you’re in.”
Stadium hasn’t struggled to score goals, but it hasn’t done it at the torrid pace of 2010. Without All-Area forwards Dylan Gaydosh and Jamael Cox – the pair accounted for more than 50 of the Tigers’ 64 goals last season – Stadium has taken a more workmanlike approach.
“Last year we relied more on star players,” center-midfielder Cesar Cervantes said. “This year we play harder, faster, with more energy on defense because we don’t have the luxuries we had last year. We make sure when we get our opportunities we put them in the back of the net.”
The Tigers have bought into the team concept and the payoff might come Saturday.
“I’ve asked them to play as one,” Baretta said. “Don’t worry about who gets the credit because the bottom line is when you win everyone gets the credit.”