Tough test for top-ranked Snohomish boys soccer

At least according to one national poll, the Snohomish boys soccer team is the best that the country has to offer — among the approximately 24 states that offer soccer as a spring sport.

With national rankings and attention, typically comes scrutiny, pressure and increased intensity from opponents. During the regular season those factors are easier to manage, but under the harsh lights of the playoffs, lesser teams can wilt underneath the pressure or one funky goal can go in and ruin everything. A year ago Glacier Peak rode high national rankings into the 3A state tournament only to lose a heartbreaking quarterfinal shootout.

This year the Panthers (16-0-1) think they have what it takes to capture the school’s third-ever 4A state soccer crown. The previous two were also under the guidance of 14th-year head coach Dan Pingrey.

Unlike some teams that prefer to hide from the spotlight and keep their head down, echoing a one-game-at-a-time mantra, Snohomish has embraced the rankings.

“It’s been a motivator,” senior captain Reilly Cross said. “I noticed it a couple weeks in. We were ranked 20th in the nation and everyone started talking and stuff. I haven’t let it get to my head.”

Of all the players on the Panthers who could let the national acclaim get to his head, Cross certainly has the most leeway. The forward leads the team in scoring with and eye-popping 21 goals, including three hat tricks and only one game without a goal.

But it isn’t just Cross that makes this team one of the best high school teams Pingrey has ever seen.

“This team technically is the best group that we’ve ever had,” Pingrey says.

Partially because of that he’s taken more liberty with embracing what comes with being highly ranked, something he didn’t do as much in previous title years 2000 and 2006.

“It’s fun,” said Pingrey, who also works as an assistant for the Seattle Pacific men’s team in the fall after giving up the Snohomish girls program four years ago. “It’s nice to be recognized. With this group, it’s been an incentive. It’s been something we’ve enjoyed.”

Success has come from blending a core group of seniors with impact underclassmen that have taken to the varsity level with shocking ease. Probably the best example is John Magnus. The freshman forward, who generously describes himself as 5-foot-6 and 100 pounds, may be the best ball handler on the field.

“He’s got skills that I can’t even believe,” senior midfielder Connor Nutt said. “He just knows where players are on the field. There’ll be two guys and he’ll split between them. The ball doesn’t leave his foot … I can’t take it off him and he’s four years younger than me.”

Multiple members of the team mentioned that they don’t want to get cocky entering the playoffs, knowing that the level of opponent increases greatly, beginning with the state’s third-ranked team Bellarmine Prep, which visits Snohomish tonight at 7:30 pm.

During practice Saturday before the Panthers knew their first-round opponent, the players mentioned how other teams have treated them this season.

“I think they respect us,” senior captain Luke Martinson said. “When they know they are going to play us, I think they fear us, which is good.”

Bellarmine is perhaps the worst-case scenario for Snohomish’s first-round game, however. Not only have the Lions (13-1-2) racked up an impressive record, losing only to undefeated Central Kitsap, but the Narrows League team has an impressive soccer tradition that includes two state titles and two wins over Snohomish in the postseason.

In 2008 the Panthers lost to Bellarmine in first round and the Lions went on to win the title. Four years earlier Snohomish fell to the Lions in a semifinal shootout before Bellarmine captured its first crown. Snohomish did beat Bellarmine in 2000 on the way to its first state win.

With goals like the Panthers have, they knew they’d eventually face the Lions, so Pingrey and Co. aren’t sweating the tough state opener.

“Everyone’s going to give us their best game, which I appreciate because we’d be doing the same thing,” Pingrey said. “So we have to step it up to earn the ranking that people are giving us.”

4A Boys Soccer State Tournament

Snohomish vs. Bellarmine Prep

Where: Veteran’s Memorial Stadium, Snohomish

When: 7:30 p.m., tonight

Lake Stevens vs. Thomas Jefferson

Where: Federal Way Stadium

When: 7:30 p.m., tonight

3A Boys Soccer State Tournament

Shorewood vs. Chief Sealth

Where: Shoreline Stadium

When: 7:30 p.m., tonight

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