High School Sports

Olympia’s Price was a reluctant goalkeeper, now he’s a star who’s going to play in college

Olympia High School’s senior goalie Sawyer Price is one of the area’s top returners. photo taken April 15, 2019
Olympia High School’s senior goalie Sawyer Price is one of the area’s top returners. photo taken April 15, 2019 sbloom@theolympian.com

Sawyer Price grew up in a soccer family.

His parents had both played and his sister Mackenzie was a midfielder for Lewis and Clark College.

During middle school, he played for Black Hills Football Club with Ty Johnson’s son. One day, Johnson, the head coach at Olympia High School, found himself sitting next to Erik Price at a match when Sawyer was switched into goal for the second half.

His dad turned to Johnson, a friend since their sons were 6 years old.

“He told me if I ever played Sawyer in goal, he’d have him transfer to Capital,” Johnson remembers, laughing.

Turns out, Sawyer Price was born to mind nets. He’s helped the Bears to back-to-back state tournament appearances in 2017 and 2018. He earned All-4A SPSL and Olympian All-Area honors a year ago.

“For a long time, from U10s to U14s, I played half in the field and half in goal,” Price said. “It finally got to the point where it was obvious I was better in goal and my dad got over his original doubts.”

Price and Johnson point to his intensity, preparation and a hint of reckless abandon as the keys to his success.

“His soccer IQ is very high,” said Johnson. “His experience in the field makes him good at playing the ball with his feet. He puts a lot of time into offseason workouts.”

“I love being able to throw my body on the line. It’s fun laying out to make a big save,” Price said.

He’ll have the chance to continue making saves next fall, having signed with Northwest Nazarene University, an NCAA Division II school in Nampa, Idaho, that plays in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference.

For all his devotion to soccer, until recently Price was a two-sport athlete who didn’t show up as such on the usual high school sports radar. For four consecutive years, he skied for the Pacific Northwest in USA Skiing’s West Regional championships, one of the best youth downhillers in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

When he joined the elite Washington Premier soccer club team, he had to make a choice and dropped competitive skiing. Still, he believes there are crossover benefits to having taken his talents to the snow in past winters.

“There’s a lot of correlation,” he said. “In ski racing, you need a lot of lower body strength, the same thing you need to kick a ball far. There are lot of quick turns and reactions like soccer. It can be stressful, which is similar to being a goalkeeper.”

Price does soccer-related workouts four times a week during the offseason and lifts five days a week. At 6-foot-2, the offseason weight room work translates into a big, strong keeper who can hold his own in the inevitable scrums in front of the net.

“I can protect myself when I go up for a ball knowing I’m going to get hit,” he said.

His presence allows Olympia defenders to be more aggressive. Accustomed to having a stellar keeper behind them when Matteo Del Giudice was earning Olympian All Area player of the year honors in 2017, the Bears haven’t skipped a beat since Price took over.

“His confidence is impressive, it’s contagious,” Johnson said. “Our guys know if they make a mistake, they’ve got a shot blocker behind them. He keeps our defense organized and motivated. He doesn’t get rattled. He’ll make mistakes, but he makes up for them.

“He wants everyone to win.”

Playing in perhaps the state’s toughest Class 4A soccer league, the South Puget Sound League, Olympia is 5-3-3 overall and 0-1-2 after a tough 1-0 loss to Sumner and ties with Rogers and league-leading Emerald Ridge.

With five games remaining, the Bears still have a shot to make a run to a third consecutive state tournament berth.

After that will come college. Johnson believes Price’s transition will be helped by having played in a league as tough as the 4A SPSL.

“He’ll continue to be a student of the game. He can buy into any system,” Johnson said.

Price said he bonded well with the current Nighthawks players on his recruiting visit to NNU.

“I fit in really well socially. The location is great. It’s close to skiing, I’ve got family two hours away. It’s a sports-focused school,” he said.

He knows the on-field opposition will be “bigger, faster and stronger” than in high school.

“I’ll have to adjust to the pace of the game and make quicker decisions,” he said.

Johnson’s betting on success for Price.

“He’s one of the nicest kids you’ll ever meet,” he said. “He takes criticism well. He wants you to drive him and push him to his limits. He cares about every player on the team.”