Last year’s Gig Harbor High boys soccer team had a lot of veteran talent, including an all-state goalkeeper and three college-bound seniors, so it was puzzling to see the Tides underachieve.
Between the goalposts, the Tides had Korey Durkee, who’s now playing football at the University of Washington. They also had next-level talent at three positions: defender Braden Stepp (Whitworth), midfielder Parker Crites (Pacific Lutheran) and forward Ian Grissom (Seattle Pacific).
The Tides figured they would return to the Class 4A state playoffs, but they failed to reach the postseason after a 1-1 draw in their regular-season finale at South Kitsap.
Nine senior starters graduated last spring, leading to a youth movement for coach Todd Northstrom.
Undergoing so many changes has Northstrom in two states of mind.
“There’s just a lot of well-dimensioned kids that have a lot of possibilities,” he said of the roster. “It sounds all rosy now, but there will be some frustrating points.”
The Tides’ senior leaders also project guarded optimism.
“We’re young, but we’re hungry, and I think that’ll play to our advantage,” senior forward Bjorn Brynestad said. “A lot of teams will underestimate us.”
“We’ve got a really young team, but they’ve got a lot of experience at the same time,” said Elliott Duea, a senior defender. “I love what I’m seeing from the young guys, stepping up and working hard. I have a good feeling about the season.”
Last year’s group mysteriously lacked chemistry, and that led to a slow start. By the time the players got on the same page, they finished one point shy of a playoff spot.
Cohesion shouldn’t be a problem in 2013, as many of the younger players have been working together for years on various club teams. And they’re doing all the right things in practice, Northstrom said.
“They believe in the system; they give suggestions,” he said. “We were working on some defensive schemes a couple days ago, and they pointed out how they do it on their club team ... and it made more sense than how I was doing it.”
The Tides open their season this week with three matches, and they may iron out the battle at goalkeeper between senior Joe Lausten and junior Matt Stephens.
Stephens was Durkee’s backup for two years, but Lausten greatly improved in the offseason, Duea said.
Whoever the keeper is, he will have to partner with defenders who also are learning on the fly. Duea, the starter at right back, is the most experienced back-line player. Kyle Miyake, Ben Long, Jake Thomson, Kevin Frey and Andrew Piacitelli all may get playing time.
The defenders are capable of attacking. Frey brings solid set-piece delivery to the pitch, and Stepp, who scored two varsity goals as a freshman, can help the attack with his vision and decision-making.
Gig Harbor hopes to play either a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 possession-heavy formation. Central midfield is the team’s strength, as Davis McCall and Carson Gearhart return, and sophomores Jon Brown, Hunter Clarke and Peninsula High transfer Aaron Madden are all looking for breakout seasons.
“They’re good at keeping the ball and not forcing anything,” Brynestad said. “They’re looking to slow things down and play Gig Harbor soccer.”
At forward, Northstrom is looking for speedy sophomore Edwin Brown to score some goals. Newcomers Steve Horwrath, Joel Jacobson and Reily O’Neil will see time up front.
Stepp said the Tides may be younger, but they’re poised to succeed through intangibles.
“We had talent last year, it’s just that we didn’t really mesh together,” he said. “I feel like the team bonding, we’re really coming together this year, and we’ll be solid.”Sports Editor Neil Pierson can be reached at 253-358-4155 or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @gateway_neil.