It’s hardly addition by subtraction.
Capital High School’s boys soccer team misses the talent and skill Alec Zimmerman and goalkeeper Van Soderberg brought to the Cougars a year ago when they finished 11-3-3 and reached the District 3 playoffs. Soderberg graduated early to report for spring football practice at the University of Washington where he is vying for reps at punter and placekicker, and Zimmerman exited to play full-time for Sounders Academy.
Despite their absence, the current Cougars have a good feeling about this season.
“Our team chemistry is a lot better than last year,” said senior defender Alan Ryan, a co-captain.
Nigel El-Sokkary, Capital’s leading scorer a year ago with 17 goals and 20 assists, agrees.
“It’s been a huge change,” the senior co-captain said. “We had boatloads of technical skill and ability last year, but we struggled with our chemistry.”
Though there are some new faces up from junior varsity, the two credit a better approach by the returners for the improvement.
“We’ve integrated the new players really well,” El-Sokkary said. “Everyone is accepting of their role and understands his responsibility.”
Team bonding off the field has been stressed. The players all ventured to Superfades Family Barber in Lacey before the season for identical haircuts. They have team dinners and stay connected with each other’s non-soccer activities through social media.
Capital coach Andrew Lopez said it isn’t an accident. Going into the season, he and his coaching staff realized improving the team’s approach couldn’t be left to chance.
“Lots of times we ask kids to be good leaders, but we’re not very explicit about what that means,” Lopez said. “This year we’ve been very intentional about what it is to be a leader. It’s not just a guy who says all the right things, but someone who does all the right things.
“We’re looking for guys to be composed in the high moments and composed in the low moments.”
So far, with the Cougars off to a 1-1 start in the 3A Narrows and 2-2 overall, Lopez credits El-Sokkary, Ryan and junior midfielder Scott Penner with providing quality leadership.
Two other players have assumed larger roles than they have in the past. Forwards Sam Reimertz, a senior, and Riley Potkonjak, a junior, have helped bolster the Cougars’ offense.
“Riley plays opposite Nigel and stretches the field for the defense,” Lopez said. “They have to acknowledge that we have quality on both sides.”
The Cougars’ goal of battling Central Kitsap — currently 3-0 in 3A Narrows play — for the championship hit a hard bump last Thursday night against North Thurston when the Rams handed Lopez his most lopsided loss as Capital’s coach, 5-0.
“North Thurston played incredibly well,” Lopez said. “They were well organized and they played very hard.”
On the other hand, the two days leading up to the game weren’t the easiest for Capital, which lost a day of practice when it traveled to Tacoma to take on Foss only to have the game canceled when no referees showed up for the game.
“We’ve had some illness going around and a lot of guys struggled to get to school Tuesday so they could play in the game. Then, Wednesday, they did stay home and we only had 10 guys at practice,” Lopez said.
Regardless of any underlying disadvantages, the Cougars got the message sent by the Rams offensive barrage and shutout defense.
“It was a reality check,” said Ryan, who plans to play for South Puget Sound Community College next season. “We’ve got to come out even harder, be ready and have high intensity every time.”
Boys high school soccer primer
TEAM TO BEAT
Olympia returns six starters, including Neil Boyal — The Olympian’s All-Area player of the year in 2015 — who runs things from midfield. Ian Hess, who scored 10 goals last season, also returns. The Bears advanced to the 4A state tournament for the first time since 2008 last season. They lost, 1-0, in the first round to 4A Narrows rival Gig Harbor. Olympia is 2-1-1 this season.
4A Narrows: Bellarmine Prep, Olympia, Timberline, Gig Harbor, Stadium, Yelm, South Kitsap
3A Narrows: Central Kitsap, Capital, Wilson, Shelton, North Thurston, Lincoln, Mount Tahoma, Foss
2A SPSL: Franklin Pierce, Orting, Fife, Steilacoom, White River, River Ridge, Clover Park, Washington
2A EvCo: Black Hills, Centralia, Tumwater, W.F. West
1A EvCo: Aberdeen, Hoquiam, Elma, Forks, Montesano, Eatonville, Tenino, Rochester
MARK THE DATE
Wednesday, May 4: Olympia hosts defending 4A Narrows champion Bellarmine at 7:15 p.m. at Ingersoll Stadium in its regular season closer.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Neil Boyal, Olympia, MF, sr.: Had eight goals and 15 assists to lead Olympia to the 4A state tournament for the first time since 2008 last year. Was The Olympian’s All-Area player of the year.
Bekele Dowty, Black Hills, F, so.: First year playing at the high school level. Previously played for Sounders Academy U16 squad and played for the U.S. Boys National Team.
Nigel El-Sokkary, Capital, F, sr.: Voted to the 3A Narrows first team in 2015, he led the Cougars with 17 goals, 20 assists and is on pace to be one of the most prolific goal scorers in Capital’s history.
Jose Flores, Shelton, F, jr.: Drew attention from opposing defenses after scoring more than 20 goals his freshman season. Responded by distributing the ball and finished with 22 assists last year. The 3A Narrows first-team forward also had 12 goals.
Ian MacLean, North Thurston, D, sr.: Helped the Rams complete three shutouts last season, and has another already this season — North Thurston blanked Capital, 5-0, last week. Was a 3A Narrows first-team selection.
BEST OF THE REST
Gabe Ayala, Black Hills, sr.; Jaelen Bush, Timberline, jr.; Ethan Dellecese, Timberline, jr.; Madison Douglas, Timberline, jr.; Yitagesu Dowty, Black Hills, so.; Nathan Faber, Yelm, sr.; Michael Garcia, Yelm, sr.; Ian Hesse, Olympia, sr.; Kolby Johnson, Olympia, jr.; Matt Lamfers, Timberline, jr.; Parker Lemas, Tumwater, sr.; Bemnet Lester, Black Hills, so.; Scott Penner, Capital, jr.; Riley Potkonjak, Capital, jr.; Alex Raymundo, Shelton, sr.; Alan Ryan, Capital, sr.; Binod Sapkota, Centralia, sr.; Nathan Seaman, Tumwater, so.; Gavin Stewart, Yelm, soph.; Collin Tate, Timberline, sr.; Quinton Taylor, River Ridge, sr.; Jorge Vazquez, Shelton, sr.; Caleb Whiteash, Tumwater, sr.