As the boys arrived one by one at Anderson Hill Park athletic fields, the Kitsap Alliance FC 13U players grabbed practice balls and started playing around as parents chatted on a rare sunny evening.
This wasn’t a normal practice. There was intent behind it.
Kitsap will represent Washington at the US Youth Soccer 2018 Far West Presidents Cup tournament this week in Salt Lake City.
Kitsap won the state Presidents Cup tournament to earn the right to head to regionals thanks to a 2-0 win over PacNW Blue B at Starfire in the championship final.
“When the ref blew the whistle, you could see them all running out onto the field,” said George Bundy, Kitsap Alliance 13U coach, adding the players knew what was on the line. “The parents and the team started a hashtag ‘#heckyeahweregonnadoit.’
But Bundy added the way the players were clicking they didn’t need the extra incentive.
“By then they knew what they were playing for and I feel like they almost didn’t need that,” he said. “They want to win. They’ve come together and learned what each other’s strengths are. We want to compete out here.”
Kitsap plays at 9:45 a.m. Tuesday against AYSK Arsenal from Alaska in a Group A preliminary match followed by Wednesday’s 3:15 p.m. match against Boise Nationals Timbers of Idaho, and Aggies FC of Utah on Thursday at 9:45 a.m. Quarterfinals matches begin Friday with semis on Saturday and the finals on Sunday, June 17.
Alliance players on the roster for Salt Lake include Keegan Bailey, Maxwell Billingsley, Samuel Braun, Cooper Braun, James Bruyere, Landon Couder, Trevor Dill, Aidan Haro, Porter Herbig, Gregory Jativa, Kolby Juarez, Rylan Lives, Jake Mackenzie, Mason McGraw, William Moseley and Colin Swenland.
Kitsap Alliance club president Peter Braun of Silverdale said their merger a few years ago with the Kitsap Pumas youth club was to bring the talent pool together on the peninsula and have the opportunity to play in large tournaments.
“This validates that,” Braun said of the regional tournament. “This has always been a really strong age group and team throughout the years. It’s fun to be the giant killers. We’re not as big as some of the clubs we knocked out and I think it kind of validates the idea of bringing the talent together in the county and having one premier program.”
Cooper Braun, a Central Kitsap Middle School, said this will be the first time the team will play in a tournament of this size. Braun said the team hadn’t played the best it could during the state cup tournament and had to fight their way out of their bracket.
“It kind of encouraged us to play better,” he said.
It also helped that the team they faced in the championship, PacNW Blue B, beat them pretty well in pool play. Kitsap players decided then they wanted a rematch.
“That was kind of motivation too,” Braun said. “We wanted to beat them here.”
“We were super excited and I was the most excited,” said Kolby Juarez, a seventh grader at Ridgetop Middle School, because they had to survive bracket play to advance into the semifinal and final at the state tournament.
“I really wanted to go to regionals I thought it would be pretty cool,” said Aidan Haro, a seventh grader at John Sedgewick Middle School. “It was kind of a goal, for me, to win the state cup.”
Bundy, who played for Evergreen State College and the Kitsap Pumas, coached about five to six of the players when they were younger and credits them for the success they’ve had thus far.
This particular age group has been together for a long time and had to handle a lot of changes, Bundy said. From the club switching from a school-year calendar to playing in the calendar year, and also being a military community where more players come and go more than other areas.
No one can predict how a team will handle those type of changes.
“That was the kind of cool part is they’ve kind of persevered,” Bundy said, adding their reward is earning a trip to Salt Lake to play in a large tournament with family cheering them on. “This group showed they could stick it out and I think that was why it felt so good for them. Through all that hard work they won it the right way.”