High School Sports

With a dynamic attack and lockdown defense, could Stadium ride the good times to a state soccer title?

Stadium’s Alex Coope discusses stunning goal, state win over O’Dea

Stadium’s Alex Coope discusses stunning goal, state win over O’Dea
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Stadium’s Alex Coope discusses stunning goal, state win over O’Dea

While Alex Coope was fulfilling his media obligations after scoring what his coach called the “goal of the season,” his teammates sprinted over and blasted him with their water bottles.

“That was cold,” Coope said, his jersey drenched, a smile stretching across his face.

It’s the sort of light-hearted moment that personifies this year’s Stadium soccer team. And why shouldn’t they be happy, considering they had just beaten O’Dea 3-0 in the opening round of the state 3A tournament on Tuesday at Stadium Bowl?

“What you see is what you get,” said first-year Stadium coach Jeremy Leffel. “They have a ton of fun. We have some seniors, so we have some leadership, also. We also have a lot of youth on the team, so it’s fun to see those things work together. The time they spend together off the pitch is pretty remarkable.”

The good times, family vibe is the overriding theme for Stadium (17-1-2 overall), which won the Class 3A Pierce County League and is now one of the final eight teams remaining. Stadium plays Lakeside at 7 p.m. on Friday in a quarterfinal game at Stadium Bowl.

“We’re always together off the field,” said Stadium forward Martin Shehata. “The family part is a big, big thing for us. We’re a family off the field and we work so hard together on the field.”

On the field, the three-headed attack of Shehata, Coope and senior Justin Beardemphl creates more headaches than belly laughs for opposing defenses.

“It’s great to have so many good players,” Shehata said. “It’s a good problem to have. We have so many attackers and we’re always helping each other out.”

What’s most noticeable is the speed and quality of the three. Against O’Dea, Coope scored the game’s opening goal early in the second half on a volley across the face of goal — a difficult goal at any level, but almost unheard of for a high school sophomore to pull off with relative ease.

“He does stuff like that in practice all the time,” Shehata said. “He’s such a special player. Doing things like that as a sophomore, he’s going to be a very, very big part of this program going forward.”

Shehata leads the team with with 21 goals and 13 assists, Beardemphl has 14 goals and 12 assists and Coope has 13 goals and 10 assists. Midfielder Braeden Pryor has also added 10 goals and 11 assists.

The friendships strengthened off the field helps on the field, too. None of Stadium’s players seem to care who gets the credit for scoring goals, and the players have embraced their roles, Leffel said.

“They believe that it’s a team and that it’s a family and it’s not just one guy doing the job,” Leffel said. “Our group is just peaking at the right time. We’ve had a good season, have battled through a middle that was tough. And right now, they’re just gelling. It’s not one guy. That’s what’s so fun about it. It’s contributions from every position and the bench. It’s just fun to watch.”

As good as Stadium’s attack is, Leffel said he believes the team’s defense is what makes everything tick.

In 20 games this season, Stadium has only conceded seven goals, while scoring 75, good for a plus-68 goal differential.

“We had a ton of shutouts this year and I think our defense has held this unit together,” Leffel said. “We’ve been pressed by some good teams, especially in the district playoffs and leading up to this, and yes, our top is dangerous, but our defensive unit has been really, really organized and composed all year.”

Only one Tacoma Public School has ever won a boys state soccer title: Stadium in 2010. Since then, the Tigers have advanced to the state tournament four times, with the highest finish coming in 2011, coming in fourth-place.

The reputation of South Sound soccer isn’t something the players spend a ton of time dwelling on, but it is a source of pride to represent Tacoma — and they aren’t the only Tacoma team playing deep into the postseason. Wilson is also in the 3A state quarterfinals after a 2-1 win over Roosevelt in the opening round of the 3A state tournament.

“With Wilson’s performance this year and what Stadium has been able to do, I think it’s good for South Sound soccer,” Leffel said. “There’s a lot of quality soccer in Seattle and maybe the South Sound gets overlooked a little bit.”

Shehata said it’s great to see two Tacoma schools in the quarterfinals.

“It feels good to have Tacoma up there for soccer, and not just for basketball or football, or some of the other sports,” he said. “We’re just happy as a team. It’s good for the community.”