KENNEWICK -- Kennewick soccer coach Brian Gochoel might have been taking a risk two years ago when he moved Geo Vazquez, a naturally gifted defender, to midfield in an effort to spice up the Lions' offense.
At first, Vazquez, the Herald's All-Area player of the year, wasn't quite comfortable in the role.
"He was a little bit reluctant. You need to be a little bit selfish to be a successful forward. That's not necessarily in his character," Gochoel said. "But with his technical ability and understanding of the game, I knew he needed to be an integral part of our attack."
The move worked. Vazquez teamed with fellow senior David Covarrubias in the midfield to anchor Kennewick's dynamic front third that propelled the Lions to their first state berth since 1993.
"That made all of us proud. It wasn't just the soccer team that knew about it. The whole school knew," said Vazquez, who scored eight goals and led the team with 15 assists as Kennewick finished with a 15-5 record.
"I still feel like we could've gone a little further, but we still made history and we left the program in a better place," he said.
Vazquez also credited Gochoel, the Herald's coach of the year, with helping foster a team-first mentality where no one player was above another.
"I don't think people want to play for a coach who plays favorites. It's good to have a coach who calls you out when needed," Vazquez said of Gochoel.
Vazquez pointed to better team chemistry as another reason for the team's breakthrough.
Even away from the soccer field, Lions players stayed together and learned to trust in one another.
"It helped us communicate better and made you want to try harder for the person next to you," he said.
Vazquez will continue his soccer career at Walla Walla Community College, where he will play under coach Chad Bodnar, a former Pasco coach and player. With the Warriors, Vazquez will return to his outside defender position, where he'll still have the flexibility to play up on the attack when needed.
Gochoel has been to many state tournaments as a player and a coach. He led Hillgrove High School in Powder Springs, Ga., to three consecutive state appearances before being hired at Kennewick. He said it was a special feeling to watch the Lions make it back to state.
"It was certainly a special year for the team, the school and the community. Any time you qualify for state -- especially after a 19-year hiatus -- is special," Gochoel said. "I was proud of their ability to compete. From what I've been told, Kennewick used to have a little bit of a rough reputation on the pitch. To see how these boys kept their cool in tight games and focused on the task at hand, that's a skill they'll be able to carry with them in their lives."
Vazquez is joined on the All-Area first team by a pair of senior teammates -- Covarrubias and defender Angel Garcia.
Wahluke senior defender Luis Rivera joins rare company, making his third appearance on the first team after capping a brilliant career with the Warriors.
There were three other repeat selections on the first team: Chiawana senior teammates Rene Solorio and Ariel Gonzalez, and Richland goalkeeper Nash Yamauchi.
Pasco put three players on the first team: Midfielder Derek Zimmerman and defenders Edgar Dominguez and Isaac Sappington.
Austin Herrick of Richland, Jose Anguiano of Kamiakin and Othello's Jorge Campos -- a two-time CWAC player of the year -- all made their All-Area debut as forwards.
* Jack Millikin; 509-582-1406; firstname.lastname@example.org