So what’s it like playing for Bellarmine Prep’s boys soccer team?
“As soon as you start playing , you can feel it — every school you go to, the fans are heckling you and you know the players want to beat you,” senior defender Tommy Martin said.
“It’s like we’re fresh meat.”
And that was amplified this season with Bellarmine — the largest private school in the state — joining a new conference, entering the 4A South Puget Sound League.
But there’s another feeling of playing for Bellarmine that senior forward Kyle Casey explained.
“With Bellarmine and the alumni and the fan base we have, you get the sense that you’re playing for something bigger than yourself,” he said. “I know that has motivated me and has motivated other players on this team.”
No school in the state of Washington that has at least one state title — in any classification — has more appearances in the state boys soccer tournament than Bellarmine Prep’s 29. So this year’s Lions, led by 12 seniors, are hoping to make Bellarmine the first school in the state to reach the WIAA’s pinnacle tournament 30 times.
But to do that, the eighth-ranked Lions have to beat Mount Rainier in a winner-to-state, loser-out game in the 4A West Central/Southwest bidistrict tournament at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Sparks Stadium in Puyallup.
Twenty of Bellarmine’s state appearances have come under the guidance of Joe Waters, the native of Limerick, Ireland, and former member of the Irish national team.
Asked what it’s like playing for the 63-year-old former professional soccer player with the old-school approach to soccer, Martin paused and smiled.
“He definitely has a lot of passion for the game,” Martin said. “His experience really speaks a lot of volume.
“He makes sure to mention his time in the past. That kind of goes with it. We know the guy has some credibility and we can trust him.”
Waters said this year’s team is different than any other.
Even with so much senior leadership, the Lions are prone to mental lapses. After winning the 4A Narrows title last year, they joined the 4A SPSL.
They beat and tied four-time 4A SPSL champion Puyallup in two matches against the No. 3-ranked team in 4A this year. But they’ve also tied 2-2 against two-win Graham-Kapowsin — followed by an 8-0 win over G-K on May 2.
Bellarmine (10-2-4) finished third in the league standings behind Puyallup (12-2-2) and Sumner (11-3-2).
“We’ve shown we can beat anybody anytime,” Waters said. “But we also have our nights where we go, ‘Holy God, where did this team come from?’
“What we need to do is find a belief in ourselves that we can be disciplined and still play attractive soccer. And we’re still aiming for that part of it.”
But offensively? The Lions have no trouble.
Casey has used his blazing speed and quickness to score 22 goals with nine assists. Max Hilger has 12 goals and 15 assists and Alex Comfort has 10 goals and 12 assists. In back-to-back matches against Rogers and Olympia, those three combined for 12 of Bellarmine’s 14 goals.
“We’re a really fun team to watch when we’re on our game,” Waters said. “But we could do with just a little bit more discipline.”
Like on April 28 against Sumner. Bellarmine lost 3-1 in a match Waters said he’s still scratching his head as to why the Lions lost. But he also said Sumner could have made it 5-1 if it had capitalized in the final five minutes.
“It feels like we can score at will, and other times it feels like we’re the Keystone Cops defending,” Waters said.
But that’s something he knows his team can clean up by Thursday. Bellarmine hasn’t been able to practice much on their grass field because of the soggy spring weather that Waters said has been the worst he’s experienced. So much of the Lions’ practice time has been spent in the gym.
“We’ve lost some games we should have won, we’ve tied some games we should have won,” Casey said. “But I think facing the adversity has made us stronger as a team and I think that will carry us in the playoffs.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677
MOST STATE APPEARANCES
A look at the schools with the most appearances in the state boys soccer tournament of those which have won at least one state title.
1. BELLARMINE PREP: 29 appearances (2 titles)
2. Shorecrest: 25 appearances (3 titles)
3 .Lakeside of Seattle 24 appearances (1 title)
4. Thomas Jefferson: 23 appearances (8 titles)
4. Mount Rainier: 23 appearances (4 titles)
6. Sehome: 21 appearances (2 titles)
7. Kennedy Catholic: 20 appearances (2 titles)
7. Seattle Christian: 20 appearances (4 titles)
10. Mountain View: 19 appearances (3 titles)
10. Bellevue Christian: 19 appearances (5 titles)
10. Saint George’s: 19 appearances (1 title)