A year removed from the first trophy finish in school history, the Royal boys soccer team is amped up for another trip to the Final Four.
But Knights coach Jens Jensen believes it isn’t just the team’s valuable experience from last season that sets it apart.
“Our league (the SCAC) only had two allocations to state. We had four teams who, on any given day, could beat each other. Just to win one of those two spots was a battle,” Jensen said. “That does give you a little bit of confidence. You do go into games thinking that no other team has been in a league like that and been tested like we have.”
Royal (13-5), which finished tied for third with Wahluke in the SCAC behind Highland and Mabton, will face Chelan (17-5) today at 4 p.m. in the 1A semifinals at Sunset Chev Stadium in Sumner. Jensen is expecting a battle from the Caribou Trail League runners-up but said the key will be using the Knights’ offensive weapons to find weakness in the Goats’ back line.
“Defensively, we’re stronger than they are on defense, and we use our wings a little better,” Jensen said. “They have little No. 10 (CTL player of the year Eleazar Galvan). He’s good. They have another guy who comes down the left side real fast. You have to stop those two, but if you do that, then you’re OK.”
Chelan eliminated SCAC champion Highland 2-1 in Saturday’s quarterfinals, and Jensen is sure his team won’t overlook the Goats today.
“They’ve got a couple of fantastic players, but Highland, by its own admission, did not play well. They’re beatable, but you’ve got to shut down their top players.”
The Knights made it through the SCAC district tournament with a 1-0 win over defending 1A state champion Wahluke, the team that beat them in the semifinals last season. Royal then topped Columbia-White Salmon in the third-place game.
“I told the boys I think they have something to prove,” Jensen said. “Despite all the fancy resumes and all the things you pay for, when you step on the field, all that matters is who’s got the talent.”
The Knights have their share of talent, too, starting with a rock-solid back line led by first-team All-SCAC picks Alex Myrick and Johnny Villanueva. They’re backed by second-team goalkeeper Lupe Arceo, who recorded eight shutouts this season. Marcos Quiroz leads the team with nine goals, while Brian Gallardo is the team’s top playmaker with eight assists.
“You know what’s awesome? These boys have been here for a while, and they understand the deal. They teach each other,” Jensen said. “The first day of practice, they were starting things up, and I hadn’t told them a thing.”
Jensen says that leadership, along with the experience of having been there before, could propel Royal to its first-ever boys soccer title.
“Of the four teams (at the Final Four), that in itself is an advantage,” Jensen said.