Decatur soccer uses sauna bonding, team chemistry to clinch 4A state berth
Decatur High School boys soccer? This good?
Coach Brad Plemons didn’t see this. Not after inheriting a team that won two matches last season.
“I thought we would have a good season. I didn’t think we would be this good,” Plemons said. “It’s just been a fantastic ride.”
It’s a ride that will continue into the 4A state tournament as the Golden Gators clinched a state berth and avoided elimination with a 3-1 victory against Battle Ground on Thursday at Tahoma High School in the 4A West Central/Southwest bidistrict tournament.
The Gators improved to 11-3-2 behind goals from Dennis Kozorezov, Jacob Buchan and Jorge Figueroa.
And Plemons hopes this might be the start of Decatur’s return to state dominance. Fifteen years ago, the school completed the second of its back-to-back state titles — with the first of those coming against Plemons’ alma mater, Ferris.
“It feels like we are heading back in that direction now,” Plemons said.
He wanted his team to set the tone early against Battle Ground of the 4A Greater Saint Helens League.
And Kozorezov responded with the go-ahead goal in the third minute, connecting off of a corner kick.
“That was huge,” Plemons said. “That’s one of the things I talked about before the game was setting the tone, and I think that really set the tone. It put Battle Ground on their heels.”
Ten minutes later, Buchan made it 2-0 with a goal.
“My heart was pumping,” Decatur goalkeeper Jose Barbosa said. “Everyone was so happy. That was an amazing moment.”
The Gators were jumping and shouting in a circle near midfield after the win.
That’s the culture that Plemons wanted to build in his first season — in his first high school coaching job. He said he focused on team building and chemistry.
So the team has made it a thing to have get-togethers in a sauna. Plemons loves cooking, so he’s organized a couple of team meals, such as the one just before their first match of the season.
“I’m definitely all about relationships,” Plemons said. “I think the players really will buy into your program if you build those relationships.
“I talked to the team, I said, ‘If you guys are really close, you won’t want to let each other down. You’ll want to be there for each other. … I think we’ve been really changing the culture and perception of not just Decatur soccer, but Decatur in general.”
Barbosa said they go to a friend’s house for the sauna.
“We sit and talk about the games, we talk about school and life in general,” Barbosa said. “Those are our bonding sessions. We chill, eat chips, cupcakes, snacks. We just hang out.”
Barbosa missed all of last year with chronic myeloid leukemia, which he discovered he had in February 2016. He’s been back this season, and now enjoying what will be Decatur’s first trip to the state playoffs since 2011.
“We play as a family,” Barbosa said. “This year, we’ve played our hearts out as a family and as a team.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677