Robyn Saarenas doesn’t ask why.
She doesn’t want to spoil the goalkeeping riches in her Auburn Riverside High School boys’ soccer program.
The sure-handed shot stoppers keep funneling through: Former University of Washington and Seattle Sounders goalkeeper Chris Eylander had just left the program when Saarenas arrived in 2003.
And in Saarenas’ 13 seasons, she has graduated five other all-SPSL 3A (or SPSL North) goalkeepers to college programs.
“Somewhere,” she said, laughing, “they are raising goalkeepers near here.”
Nearly a year removed from a fourth-place finish at the Class 3A state tournament, Auburn Riverside is not only the 3A SPSL favorite, but on the short list of state contenders.
That doesn’t mean the Ravens don’t have a few issues to iron out. The biggest one is to replace the offense of four impact seniors who have moved on.
Senior captain Brandon Gonzalez could end up being the area’s best attacking center midfielder. He is a former Seattle Sounders FC Youth Academy performer.
And the team welcomes junior Keegan Dolan, who is also a Sounders academy product.
“We are comfortable with possession,” Saarenas said. “But we are still finding our way in terms of putting the ball in the back of the net.”
What gives the longtime coach great comfort is what protects the back end for the Ravens. Junior Andy Starkel is an emerging star at goalkeeper.
But Starkel isn’t guaranteed to be around the team — or soccer — for the rest of his career.
He, too, was recently contacted to train with the best teenagers in the Sounders academy.
And soccer isn’t Starkel’s only option. His thunderous placekicking leg in football has attracted a few FBS recruiters.
“When I got to high school, I thought (football) could be an option to pursue,” Starkel said. “Obviously, sometime during my senior year, I know I will have to choose if I have the opportunity to play either sport in college. Right now, I just have to weigh my options and see what comes up.”
It is a situation Saarenas will certainly monitor closely — and feels much better about because of whom backs up Starkel in goal.
Sophomore Riley Dunne displays a lot of the same technical skill and cat-like reflexes as his older training partner.
“This is a great way to get better having somebody like Andy in front of you,” Dunne said. “It makes you work harder. It also makes you want to get better.”
At 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, Starkel is the more imposing physical presence. Kelly Bendixen, who coaches both goalkeepers with the Pacific Northwest Soccer Club, notes when Starkel “puts his wrists up on the crossbar” and shows off his wing span, strikers have to wonder how they can get shots past him.
Dunne is smaller at 6-0, 145 pounds. But he makes up for it in other ways.
“There are times when Andy gets caught leaning in one direction, but can make up for it with his range,” Bendixen said. “Riley has to read things quicker, which enables him to play bigger than he is.”
Among Auburn Riverside teammates, there is no debate who should start in goal, if available — Starkel.
But Gonzalez grasps the allure of the Sounders academy and would understand if Starkel bolted for that level of training.
“He is that caliber of a goalkeeper,” Gonzalez said. “I have been there, and I see how those goalkeepers train — and honestly Andy would benefit a lot from that. Once he got that kind of training, there isn’t anything that would stop him.
“A player like Andy would be missed. But Riley is also here … and he is a good goalkeeper.”
A third variable also could impact Starkel’s availability: Recurring concussions.
Last October, he was a guest goalkeeper for a local club that played a tournament in Spokane.
As Starkel went to the ground for a save, he was accidentally kneed in the face by an opposing player.
“I don’t have much memory of it,” Starkel said. “My body went stiff, they told me.”
He was taken to a local hospital for a left cheek wound that required eight stitches to close, and a nasal fracture.
Starkel missed 3 1/2 weeks of school recovering andwas sidelined for the Ravens’ final two football games.
“Recovering was terrible,” Starkel said. “Just having to watch the final two games and then the next two months of club soccer — which meant when we went to (recruiting showcase) the Surf Cup, all I could do was watch.”
For now, a fully healthy Starkel plans on playing a full season in goal for the Ravens — and also mentoring the talented Dunne.
“Pretty much every team I have been on, I have had another keeper here and been pushed,” Starkel said.
2016 SOUTH SOUND BOYS SOCCER PRIMER
TEAM TO WATCH
Auburn Riverside has some shoes to fill without reigning league MVP Adrian Correa and top goal scorer Jordan Loomans from last year’s fourth-place 3A state tournament team. And expect Auburn Mountainview to be right there with the Ravens in the league title hunt. But with a pair of Sounders academy products in Brandon Gonzalez and Keegan Dolan, as well as Corey Brinkman’s presence on the backline, it’s not hard to imagine Auburn Riverside vying for another state trophy.
4A Narrows — Olympia
3A Narrows — Central Kitsap
4A SPSL NW — Thomas Jefferson
4A SPSL NE — Tahoma
4A SPSL South — Puyallup
3A SPSL — Auburn Riverside
2A SPSL — Fife
2A Evergreen — Black Hills
1A Nisqually — Charles Wright
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Neil Boyal, M, Olympia, sr.: Makes this Bears offense tick. Had 15 assists to go with his eight goals in the gauntlet that was the 4A Narrows League. Plenty of reasons to be excited for soccer around the state capital.
Cris Garfias, M/F, Tahoma, jr.: Coach Jason Johnson said he’s never coached a faster player than Garfias. Not even last year’s TNT All-Area player of the year Logan Wood. Almost faster on the ball than off it.
Brandon Gonzalez, M, Auburn Riverside, sr.: Has ball skills that coach Robyn Saarenas said amazes even her sometimes. Had 13 goals and six assists last year but must be the team leader this year.
Jaeger Skifstad, F, Central Kitsap, sr.: Reigning 3A Narrows League MVP scored 21 goals with six assists last year. High motor forward could lead Cougars to 3A state tournament for second straight year.
Nigel El-Sokkary, F, Capital, sr.: Cougars have a few question marks this season, but it’s sure nice to return El-Sokkary, who had 17 goals and 20 assists last season. Expect an even greater role this year.
BEST OF THE REST
4A Narrows — M Nathan Faber, Yelm, sr.; F Jose Flores, Shelton, jr.; F Ian Hesse, Olympia, sr.; F Robert Nurmi, Bellarmine Prep, sr.; D/M Jack Sluys, Gig Harbor, jr.; M Isaac Sterling, South Kitsap, sr.; M Collin Tate, Timberline, sr.
3A Narrows — M Logan Beachy, Central Kitsap, sr.; D Jack Coupe, Central Kitsap, sr.; GK Alek Greenleaf, Wilson, jr.; D Ian MacLean, North Thurston, sr.; M Caleb Martin, Foss, sr.; Nick Rhode, Wilson, jr.
4A SPSL Northeast — D Alex Bailey, Tahoma, jr.; D Tanner Doyle, Kentridge, jr.; M Manav Gill, Kentwood, so.; F/M Austin Nguyen, Kentlake, sr.
4A SPSL Northwest — D Nick Hall, Thomas Jefferson, sr.; M Justin Yoon, Thomas Jefferson, sr.
4A SPSL South — M Jacob Baker, Graham-Kapowsin, jr.; M Colin Mayes, Rogers, sr.; D Julian Rasmussen, Emerald Ridge, sr.; F Kyle Rivers, Spanaway Lake, sr.; M Alex Whiting, Curtis, jr.; M Levi Woolley, Puyallup, sr.
3A SPSL — M Geo Barrientos, Auburn, sr.; M Austin Countryman, Enumclaw, jr.; F Erik DeAnda, Auburn Mountainview, jr.; F/M Mason Haubrich, Peninsula, jr.; D Bradley Keller, Peninsula, sr.; D Seth Olney, Enumclaw, sr.; M Nick Phillips, Sumner, sr.; M Duvan Vaca-Trujillo, Auburn Mountainview, sr.
2A SPSL — M Gilbert DeLaCruz, Franklin Pierce, so.; F Bryan Flores, Fife, jr.; F Alex Gonzalez, Washington, sr.; M Hayden Grimm, White River, sr.; D Dillon Johnson, Orting, sr.; M Axel Mejia, Fife, jr.; D Ray Segala, Fife, sr.; GK Julian Tafola, Fife, sr.
2A Evergreen — M Gabe Ayala, Black Hills, sr.; D Dane Brizzolara, Tumwater, sr.; M Yitagesu Dowty, Black Hills, so.; M Laurence Silva, Centralia, sr.
Others — M Anthony Gateman, Vashon Island, sr.; F Nick Iregui, Charles Wright, jr.; M Andrew Jennings, Cascade Christian, sr.
TJ Cotterill: email@example.com