KENNEWICK — The Southridge High School boys soccer team's first winning season came in 2008, when Bill Landefeld was a freshman player. Landefeld vividly remembers helping lay the foundation for a winning program.
"I looked up to a lot of the upperclassmen I knew from club soccer: Brandon Hale, John Zoulek, Phil Vorheis, Tanner Crass and Nick Johnson. Being able to learn from them was really helpful," said Landefeld, named co-captain this season with senior midfielder Adolfo Garcia.
"A lot of times, the captain gets the brunt of responsibility. We hold them accountable for most of what happens," Suns coach Chip Elfering said. "What's good with Bill is he holds himself accountable and wants to improve. And he wants people around him to improve."
Landefeld, a defender, is part of the first senior class to complete four winning seasons with the Suns. And on the last day of April, Southridge earned a share of its first-ever league title with a 2-1 CBBN 3A road win over Eastmont. Three days later, Southridge claimed the championship outright with a 3-0 victory against Kamiakin.
"It means the world to go out with a bang. To see us build off that first winning season and win our first district playoff game last year," Landefeld said. "We haven't been able to go further, but we're at regionals now and striving for state."
The Suns (14-2) will open their 2011 playoff run against Eastmont (13-5) at 6 p.m. today at Lampson Stadium in the regional semifinals. The winner will earn a trip to the 3A state tournament starting next Tuesday, and the loser will play the Pasco-University loser for the No. 3 seed to state.
It has been a landmark year for Landefeld, a transplanted forward who has spent his first full season on defense after splitting time between attacker and fullback last season. But the move has been a rewarding one for Landefeld and Southridge coaches.
"At first he didn't want to (move). He really liked forward," Elfering said. "But he saw we really needed him, and he's always accepted his role."
Flanked by outside backs Connor Cravens and Josh Mendoza, Landefeld and junior Keaton Hale have made quite a pair in central defense. With that lockdown back line in place, the Suns have allowed just 15 goals in 16 games and three goals in the last six games -- all victories.
"Every game I'll take a forward, he'll take a forward, and we'll mark them up the whole game. If we get stretched, he makes up for whatever mistake is made," Hale said. "We'll be 2-versus-1 against attackers and he'll come out of nowhere, get the ball and we're immediately on the counterattack."
Landefeld's experience at forward makes him especially valuable on Southridge set pieces. He's good in the air and is equally adept at finding the back of the net. He has used those talents to score four goals -- an unusually high number for a defender.
But his nose for the net also led to another big goal for his club team, Three Rivers U-18, in the State Cup championship. With eight minutes remaining in a 1-1 tie, Landefeld fought for position on a corner kick and found a way to knock home the game winner.
"The ball crossed in. I saw a guy go up for a header. I went up with him and did a nice little lefty, flicked it off my (inside arch)," Landefeld said. "The goalkeeper was jumping back into the goal, and it just dropped right in. It was a great moment."
Landefeld will hope for a few more great moments when he continues his soccer career at Whitman College in Walla Walla, where head coach Mike Washington hopes he can contribute right away.
"(The State Cup goal) is a testament to him. That's why you recruit players like that. You want players who come up big in big-time situations like that," said Washington, also the head coach at Walla Walla High School. "One of the things you need is strength and depth. I think he can play at multiple positions if somebody goes down."
Therein lies one of Landefeld's biggest strengths -- his versatility.
"I've played different positions my whole life, so I know the different roles each position plays," he said. "You learn what each position expects from the other and what each one really wants."
What Landefeld and his teammates really want now is a run at a state title.
It's certainly a lofty goal. Then again, Landefeld knows a little something about those.
* Jack Millikin; 509-582-1406; email@example.com