The best players always seem to find a way to rise to the top in crunch time, as Jonathan Larsen did for the Richland boys soccer team this season.
But the best teammates find a way to give credit where it’s due.
“(Lionel) Messi is considered the best player in the world, but he’s not that great unless the whole team is surrounding him,” Larsen said.
The Bombers had one of their best seasons in program history, winning their ninth district championship and reaching the 4A state tournament for the first time since 2003.
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But after earning Mid-Columbia Conference MVP honors, Larsen — the Herald’s All-Area player of the year — played an even bigger role in Richland’s four postseason games, collecting five goals and two assists to lift the Bombers into the state quarterfinals.
“I noticed that during the playoffs, our team was looking for goals more often. I just stepped up and took some more chances,” said Larsen, who missed much of the 2012 season with a foot injury. “I started doing it in practice, and the coaches liked it and wanted to see more of it. But it’s built up from the people around you.”
Larsen, a three-year captain, finished the season with 10 goals and an MCC-leading 14 assists. His efforts were matched by teammate Austin Herrick, who totaled 16 goals and 10 assists.
Herrick is the only repeat first-team selection on the all-area team.
Larsen was disappointed that Richland didn’t go further in the state playoffs, but he was proud to be a part of a group that he considered more of a family than a team.
“After (the quarterfinal loss), there was a sense of regret. But a day or so later, everybody felt we accomplished so much compared to previous seasons,” Larsen said.
He also recalled a memorable postgame talk from Bombers assistant coach Brock Long after the team’s final home game. Long was a member of Richland’s 2003 state championship team.
“He was talking about how that game is just one small point in our existence,” Larsen said. “He said we just need to move on from it and look on the positive side. During that moment, we could all relate to him.”
Another coach who had a strong effect on his team was Mike Pardini, who returned to high school coaching after four seasons at Pasco from 2006-09.
Pardini inherited a Hanford team that had won a total of seven games in the previous four seasons and instilled a belief that the Falcons could compete for the MCC title.
In the end, Hanford ended up competing for a 3A state title, reaching the semifinals for the first time since 2002.
“We accomplished everything we wanted to and more. This isn’t the final step. This is just a stepping stone to where we want to be,” Pardini said. “The foundation has been set now. Now we have that experience and the expectations. Now, our expectations are higher.”
Pardini knows what a championship team looks like, having led Pasco to 4A state titles as a player (in 1999) and as a coach (in 2007). He said the Falcons share some remarkably similar characteristics to the ’07 Bulldogs.
“In 2007, we had lost some key guys, but players like Shayne Kelly and Reggie Orozco were proven leaders who helped us carry the torch,” Pardini said. “The same can be said about this group. We have three captains (Jacob Bogen, Kyle McMurrich and Kelly Smith) who are committed and are going to work and grind.”
Joining Larsen and Herrick on the first team are Richland teammates Nico Reyes and goalkeeper Damian Ruiz. Hanford placed three players on the first team — Smith, forward Will Bishop and midfielder Mario Zarate.
The MCC champion Kennewick Lions also got three first-team nods in forward Ramiro Chavez, midfielder Alvaro Licea and defender Noe Diaz. Pasco also put three players on the first team — forward Emilio Meraz-Rodriguez, midfielder Juan Magana and defender Oswaldo Ayala.
Kamiakin senior defender Kolten Brockman rounded out the first team.