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Season Over: FHHS Boys Soccer Dropped from State Title Run, 3-0

by Ian Byington

The FHHS defense was worked hard Saturday as SAAS won 3-0. Pictured, in a photo taken vs. Seattle Christian a couple of weeks ago, from left: midfielder Cameron Byington (4), defenders Louis Paul (9), Daniel Jones (6), Kevin O'Connor (14), midfielder Eric Rothlisberger (8), and Shay Byington, joined by goalkeeper Paul Guard.

Second-ranked Friday Harbor boys soccer put their 15-1-1 record on the line Saturday against a veteran Seattle Academy of the Arts & Sciences (SAAS)  squad (12-3-3) and came up short, losing 3-0.

The Wolverines came a game short of repeating last year's miracle season, which ended in the State Final Four, losing by a goal to eventual champions University Prep. With only one loss prior to the weekend, the Wolverines were favorites to beat SAAS, who had suffered three losses and three ties before finishing strong to place third in the Emerald City League, in Seattle.

The first half set the tone for the game, however, as SAAS pulled the trigger on three good shots before the Wolverines were able to get their first. Sophomore forward Erik Nash grazed the left goalpost with a bending shot that just missed for what proved to be FHHS' best chance of the half, at 9 minutes. After that, Seattle Academy set up camp in the Friday Harbor half of the field, allowing only occasional visits into their own penalty area, while keeping the Wolverine defense busy at the other end.

Wolverine notes: FHHS had only allowed 14 goals all season, going into Saturday's match, which Guard credited to the way his defense of senior Daniel Jones and sophomores Louis Paul, Kevin O'Conner, and Shay Byington communicated with him and with each other. "That is one tight defense," Guard said. SAAS came to the match having allowed only 15 all year in the tough Emerald City League.....

Junior Mario Nunez ended the season as the team's leading scorer with his second straight season scoring 20 goals, followed by senior Felipe Lopez (15, and the team's assist leader), senior Eric Rothlisberger (9) and Nash (7). Senior Chris Benz, sophomore Louis Paul, and freshmen Pablo Lopez and Cameron Byington also contributed scores this season.....

If they couldn't bet 'em on the field, they did beat 'em in the classroom: Friday Harbor was named the state boys soccer academic champions for 2005 for the fourth straight year.

The Wolverines graduate five this year: Rothlisberger, Guard, Jones, Benz, and Felipe Lopez.

With the loss Saturday night, the Northwest League (Friday Harbor repeated as champs) has no representatives in the State Final Four in Tacoma next week, while the Emerald City League sends three - SAAS, defending champs University Prep, and top-ranked Overlake. Riverside Christian from Eastern Washington rounds out the four.

Seattle Academy scored at 20 minutes on a cross from the right wing by sophomore Will Mosely to senior captain Gavin Davis, who nodded it in just under the bar and just past senior keeper Paul Guard's extended fingertips. Junior midfielder Sam Walker found Davis again with four minutes left in the half for a 2-0 halftime lead.

"They were hard to get around," conceded Nash. "That center defender (SAAS' Phillip Berry) was great - we couldn't beat him. He was always in the right place to stop us in that first half. But we knew we still had a chance."

Friday Harbor came out firing in the second half, working the ball immediately into the Seattle Academy penalty area, only to have it reversed 60 yards by Berry to senior Rufus Walker, who converted the breakaway to make it 3-0 in the first 40 seconds.

"That was a great crossover move he made with the ball, right before he shot," commented Guard. "He was running hard, made that move, and placed the ball well. It was a great shot."

From that point on, the Wolverines played tougher defense, shutting down the more physical Seattle forwards, and winning the ball in the midfield, but it was too late. SAAS continued to close off chances by the FHHS forwards, and to disrupt the high-powered Wolverine passing attack, which showed more life in the second half, but was unable to mount a threat by scoring.

FHHS head coach Ron Duke was impressed by what he saw. "They were the best team we've seen this year, and we can imagine them winning the whole thing this year. They played a good solid game, and simply outplayed us. Hats off to them."

With the loss, the Wolverines complete their second best season ever, winning 15 games and losing only two, and progressing to the State Final Eight for the second year in a row. "It turned out to be a better season than you might have expected," Duke noted, pointing to the team's loss of experience and leadership by graduating seven seniors from the 2004 squad. "The young guys stepped up. It's a season to be proud of."

[Ian is a long time high school and middle school coach who directed the FHHS girls soccer team in its early years, and also covered professional soccer for the newspapers in Portland. He currently publishes the online San Juan Island Update, beginning its ninth year next month.]