Even with about nine years of experience with Sequim High’s junior varsity boys soccer program, “new” head coach Ken Garling admitted he had some butterflies heading into the 2021 season opener.
Garling, who was set to take over for longtime head coach Dave Brasher in 2020 before the COVID outbreak wiped out the season, said the jitters finally went away in the road match on March 24.
“That first whistle blew, I took a breath and then it was, ‘OK, we’re doing this.’”
Sequim’s players eased those jitters with an 11-0 rout of East Jefferson.
A soccer squad that looked loaded for a state tourney run in 2020 brings back a number of experienced players to the fold in 2021.
In 2019, the Wolves routed foes to the tune of a 12-0 league mark and 15-2-2 overall, before being eliminated in the first round of 2A state tournament.
Back from that squad is senior co-captain Eli Gish, and juniors Cristian Gonzalez and Kristian Mingoy, along with a trio of juniors Garling expects to have breakout seasons: Brandon Charters, Aidan Henninger and Brandon Wagner.
A number of the junior varsity freshmen and sophomores he worked with two seasons ago are ready to make the varsity leap now, Garling said, easing the coaching transition.
“They all get along — that’s huge,” he said.
Without a postseason to aim for, Garling said the goal for the Wolves is one the team talked about early on: “Plain and simple, (it’s to) win our league and win it outright.”
Some eligibility issues combined with a low turnout have the Wolves struggling to have any substitutes in early games. With 55 on SHS’s roster for the suspended 2020 season, this year sees just 28 players filling out the roster in 2021.
Low numbers or not, Garling said he likes his team’s chances for success, looking to model Brasher’s practice of connecting with the players along with a strong assistant coaching staff that features a wealth of experience with Juan Carlos, Jared King and Dave Breckenridge.
Wolves rout East JeffCo, edge Port Angeles in openers
Wolves captain Eli Gish found the back of the net five times, and Tyler Lawson added a hat trick as Sequim topped host East Jefferson 11-0 on March 24 in the season opener for both teams.
“He just came out super motivated,” Garling said of Gish. “Like the rest of the boys that were on the squad last year that didn’t get to play, he’s extra motivated.
“He’s always been able to score, but he was back at defender (as a sophomore in 2019), and he wanted to be more on the attack side this year, so we decided let’s give him a shot, put him higher up, and it worked out as we hoped it would.”
Kristian Mingoy added a goal and two assists.
“He was solid all over the field,” Garling said. “He almost scored on a bicycle kick from the 6-yard box that would have been one of the greatest goals I’ve ever seen. The East Jefferson goalie (Hazen McMillian) made a tremendous save.”
Defender Brandon Wagner pushed forward and scored a goal from about 25 yards out, and Ethan Knight finished out the scoring with a shot from 18 yards out.
Garling said Wagner and fellow defender Harrison Bell paired up well defensively, and defensive midfielder Aidan Henninger “did a wonderful job of controlling the middle part of the pitch.”
Sophomore goalkeeper Nova Barrett had a couple of saves in his varsity debut.
Sequim then knocked off rival Port Angeles 2-0 on March 25, getting first half scores from Gish and Henninger.
“It was pretty gutty,” Garling said. “After having a big game the day before and having to come back and play Port Angeles, a great team that always plays tough, for the boys to come back and have that response, yeah, I’m pretty proud.”
Sequim controlled the game, linking up time after time with well-placed passes, building up its attack and putting pressure on the Roughrider goal from the opening whistle.
Gish continued his strong start, scoring a goal in the seventh minute off of an assist from junior Brandon Charters.
Charters made a run up the left sideline, turned his Port Angeles defender along the end line and found Gish who stuffed his shot into the upper left corner of the goal for his sixth score in the first two games of the season.
“What he brings to the game is more than just soccer skills, it’s attitude, heart, dedication and he’s just an all-around great kid,” Garling said.
Following Gish’s goal, Riders’ goalkeeper Logan Desser then stood tall, saving a bullet of a shot by Henninger and making a tip save over the goal on an Ethan Knight strike.
But Henninger is nothing if not persistent. He regrouped and found the back of the net in the 29th minute with a low kick to the left post and the junior celebrated in style with a backflip at midfield.