With tired eyes, sore legs but a strong will, four students at Tacoma Baptist High School have taken on a super-sized helping of the state playoffs this week.
Seniors Ryan Ratliff and Noah Leaman, junior Parker “PJ” Talen and ninth-grader Titus VonBarnauSythoff have a busy upcoming three days — starting Thursday as they lead the unbeaten and third-ranked Crusaders football team into a Class 1A quarterfinal matchup against No. 4 Neah Bay, the 2013 and 2014 state champion.
On Friday, all of them will change uniforms to help the boys soccer squad try to return to the 1B title match. Tacoma Baptist opens with SeaTac 1B rival Crosspoint Academy in the state semifinals.
Regardless of whether the Crusaders win or lose Friday, they play another match Saturday in Sumner. If they win, they will play for the state championship at 4 p.m.
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TACOMA BAPTIST FOOTBALL The unbeaten Crusaders face Neah Bay in the 1B state quarterfinals at 7 p.m. Thursday at Mount Tahoma Stadium.
TACOMA BAPTIST BOYS SOCCER The boys soccer team faces Crosspoint in the 2B/1B state semifinals at 6 p.m. Friday at Sunset Chev Stadium in Sumner. Win and Tacoma Baptist advances to a 4 p.m. championship match on Saturday, lose and it plays a third-place match at noon on Saturday.
“It’s sweet,” Talen said. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
As is the case with small high schools, students commonly play multiple sports in the same season.
Ratliff, Leaman and Talent first looked into doing that type of double duty starting last year, but first had to clear it with their parents.
“My parents were sort of negative in the beginning, saying, ‘Oh you are going to be tired and sleep all the time,’ ” Leaman said. “Now, since we are in state, they think it’s great.”
Ratliff and his parents have set playing guidelines for both sports: In 2015, the talented soccer midfielder could only play defensive back for football. And this season, he could only be a placekicker — until the football playoffs.
“It takes a toll in both ways,” Ratliff said. “Physically, you are beat up from all the practices. And mentally, you are always thinking about (both sports). And then you have schoolwork on top of that.”
In 2015, the double duty only lasted through the regular season. The football team went 2-7 and missed the playoffs. The soccer team advanced to the 1B title match, losing to St. George’s, 2-0.
As was the case last season, the three two-sport returners play the same positions in football and soccer.
Talen is the starting quarterback in football, and the top goalkeeper on the soccer squad. Ratliff is a kicker and cornerback in football, and a defensive midfielder in soccer. Leaman is a fullback and defensive lineman in football, and a defender in soccer.
“We talk a lot about getting a good night’s sleep, and maintaining good health and nutrition,” said Tim Rasmussen, Tacoma Baptist’s football coach and athletic director. “But it’s also about being able to fulfill their commitment. This has been their choice. Nobody has forced them to do it.”
Generally, weekly practices break down with soccer early and football late. Neither session goes longer than 70 minutes.
Last week, the playoffs began. The undefeated Crusaders defeated Crescent, 39-36, in the first round of the 1B football playoffs Friday night at Curtis High School.
The next day, they faced Life Christian in the 1B boys soccer quarterfinals.
“I am always sore after a football game, no matter how well we do,” Talen said. “And in that last game, I hurt my shoulder. So for the soccer match the next day, I had a tape job done on it. I pushed through, I guess.”
Ratliff rolled his left ankle in the football game, but still played in the team’s 3-1 soccer victory the next day. Leaman had his bumps and bruises.
Then came 48 anxious hours of deliberating over this week’s schedule.
There was a very real possibility that both this weekend’s football game and soccer match could have been held at the same time. In that case, each student would have played for the team he “declared” as his primary sport at the beginning of the season.
But Rasmussen reached out to Neah Bay football coach Tony McCaulley about moving the football game to Thursday. McCaulley agreed to it, saving the Crusaders from having to split both rosters at the most pivotal juncture of the season.
“Just incredible relief,” Rasmussen said.
And now, hopefully, followed up by an incredible run of winning.
“It will be crazy this weekend,” Ratliff said. “Hopefully adrenaline can carry us enough.”