Will Eldred has grown up on the soccer field, in more ways than one.
Eldred, who began playing the game when he was 3, has nine goals and eight assists for the Hanford Falcons this year.
While Eldred has been a prolific goal scorer during his career, it’s his assist total that has particularly impressed this spring.
“I think he’s matured throughout the years,” Hanford coach Mike Pardini said. “Sometimes you’ll see that in certain players that mature in the right way. He’s got a sense of leadership in him and experience that he’s now going to be able to recognize when he’s got double teams and sometimes triple teams, that he’s got to release the ball and give somebody else an opportunity to score.”
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Eldred is determined to do whatever it takes to get the Falcons through the Class 3A Mid-Columbia Conference district tournament and extend his senior season at least another week. Hanford (6-10 overall, 6-8 MCC) faces Southridge (6-10, 6-8) in a loser-out game at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Lampson Stadium.
“It’s hard because it’s the last season of your high school career, and each game could be your last game, and you don’t know when it’s coming,” Eldred said.
No matter how it ends, Eldred has had a sensational four years at Hanford. He helped the Falcons finish fourth in the 2013 Class 3A state tournament and reach the first round of state in 2014. He was an all-Mid-Columbia Conference first-team selection as a sophomore (midfielder) and junior (forward), and he was a second-team all-state pick last season.
Eldred’s speed, agility, strength and aerial ability make him one of Hanford’s top threats.
Pardini says Eldred also has grown into a vocal, charismatic leader who can adapt to his teammates’ personalities.
“Getting to know the guys, that’s key for any sport that’s a team sport,” Eldred said. “If you don’t know the guys, then how are you gonna be able to play well on the field?”
Eldred has learned to adapt off the field, as well.
After his mother, Colleen, died of cancer when he was 2, Will and older sister Nikki were raised by their aunt and uncle, Diana and Steve Knoll.
Steve was in the Navy, so the family moved around. They went from Texas to California to Washington, all before Will was out of elementary school.
“It definitely made me stronger, that’s for sure,” Eldred said. “All that I do is for (my mom).”
And he never forgets what his aunt and uncle have done over the years for him and Nikki, a 2013 Hanford graduate who attends the University of San Diego.
“They’ve always been very easygoing people,” Eldred said. “They were strict, of course. ‘Sit up straight when you eat, no elbows on the table.’ ... But they never pushed me to do anything I didn’t want to do. If I wanted to play soccer, I could play soccer. If I wanted to be a cheerleader, ‘be a cheerleader.’ There was nothing I couldn’t do, and there was nothing they wouldn’t let me do. They just supported me every time I did something.”
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Eldred was a three-sport athlete in high school, running cross country his first three years at Hanford and playing basketball all four years. But he says his No. 1 sport is soccer. He has been a member of Three Rivers Soccer Club, and he signed a letter of intent to play for the Walla Walla Community College men’s team.
Pardini knows any team would be lucky to have Eldred.
“If you watched him play, it would take you no more than one or two minutes to understand why he’s had the success that he’s had — because of his style of play, because he works so hard,” Pardini said. “He kind of drives everyone else around him, and he’s the type of guy that can really make something out of nothing.”
MCC district soccer
Tuesday’s loser-out games
4A: No. 4 Walla Walla (0-14 overall, 0-14 MCC) at Richland (5-10, 5-9), 6 p.m.
3A: No. 4 Hanford (6-10, 6-8) at No. 3 Southridge (6-10, 6-8), 6 p.m., Lampson Stadium