Spartan kickers bank on speed, smarts

Even lower classmen have ‘a license to kick butt’ this year.

Practice for the Bainbridge boys soccer team wasn’t much fun on Wednesday as the squad worked through the wind, rain and cold.

The Spartans now hope to unleash an offensive storm of their own on the rest of the Metro League for the 2006 prep season.

To win, they’ll have to put the ball in the net like they did last year. After scoring just seven goals the season before, the Spartans put 34 balls in the net last season en route to a 9-4-4 record.

The Spartans just missed making it to the state tournament however, losing to Eastside Catholic in a shootout.

Head coach Anh Tran feels the team is ready to compete as the offense pushes the ball up field.

“We lost some great players last year, but one year makes a huge difference,” he said. “They’re wiser and stronger in the runs.”

Two major returners are forward Tyler Church and defender/forward Francis Waplinger, both co-captains and seniors.

Church likes getting the younger players some varsity experience – only four seniors are on the team, with juniors, sophomores and freshman midfielder/defender Kyle Scoble making up the rest.

“I think it’ll be a pretty good team,” Church said. “Our defense will be pretty strong, and I think the forwards will be, too. I don’t think we’ll be lacking anywhere.”

Tran likes Church’s speed – “He’s quicker than snot,” the coach said – and the game sense of Waplinger, whom he calls “the smartest guy on the field.”

Other returners include sophomore midfielder Dylan Tucker-Gagnes, junior midfielder Will O’Donnell, goalkeeper and co-captain Alex Bolt and defender Zach Conner, all juniors.

Tran feels Bolt should improve after a rough club season and likes how O’Donnell improved his footwork.

He had high words of praise for Tucker-Gagnes, calling him the “Tiger Woods of soccer.”

“He’s fantastic,” Tran said. “He can get the ball anywhere and hit it in stride.”

Several newcomers are expected to contribute as well, including junior defender Lucas Pearl and sophomore midfielder Max Aussendorf.

Both players are fast and aggressive in the air, and their talent helps make the Spartans a well-rounded team.

“We’re pretty balanced,” Tran said. “Last year I thought our forwards (Zach Mallove and Jesse Burk-Rafel) were very strong, and our center midfielder (Zach Tucker-Gagnes) was very strong as well, but this year we’re well-rounded.

“As a coach you want a well-balanced team.”

They’ll need that balance to compete in the Metro with perennial state qualifer Lakeside and tough teams like Bishop Blanchet and O’Dea residing in their division.

“Our work is getting the younger guys to step up and (stop thinking) ‘just because I’m a sophomore I can’t dominate,’ or ‘just because I’m a junior I have to wait a year to dominate,’” Tran said. “There’s something about (being a) senior that just gives you license to kick butt, so we don’t have a lot of that and these guys just gotta do it.”

And while it’s still too early to tell, Church feels they’ll be competitive this season.

“We have to play a couple of games to find out how we’ll do (for the season), but looking back at last year we didn’t do too bad,” he said. “If we just keep it together and play smart, I think we’ll do well.”

Bainbridge opens their season Monday at their rival North Kitsap at 6:45 p.m., then make their home debut against Sequim on March 17.

Game time is 7 p.m.

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