By Jon Saperstein For The Weekly Herald
The old campus for Lynnwood High School contains bad memories for many members of the Royals sports teams, which generally languished at the bottom of Wesco for years. As much as anyone, the Alderwood mall location brings back dark memories for the boys soccer team.
The timing of the new beautiful Bothell campus could not have been better for Ryan Camden and his plan to turnaround what was at the time a lowly program.
“Getting away from Alderwood mall,” Camden said, “all those memories were the bad memories that we wanted to get out of the boys’ minds.”
Camden was the Lynnwood JV coach in 2009 and acted as interim head coach in 2010 when the team went 0-9 in Wesco play and 1-16 overall. It was the second consecutive year without a league win, but he knew that rock bottom season was necessary on the road to respectability, which the Royals have more than found this season, racking up an 8-4-2 league record (through last week’s games). The team has even had a chance to finish second in the Wesco 3A standings out of nine teams, which was unheard of even last year when the team finished sixth out of eight.
“The soccer program was always looked down on,” Camden said of the culture before he took over. “The boys were getting in trouble.”
Camden was very intentional about the rebuilding of the team and the success of the 2012 Royals is even ahead of his schedule.
“It’s definitely been a surprise year by the amount of success,” junior captain Soren Steelquist said. “I knew we were going to be better than we had in the past but everyone’s working hard and hard work pays off.”
Camden expected the turnaround would take three to four seasons, but the players have taken to the culture change and knocked off every team in the league this season except undefeated Shorewood and perennial-power Shorecrest.
“We wanted to get a new look on things,” Camden said. “The biggest thing was not winning games, that wasn’t our main focus. If we did win a few that was great, but the main thing was discipline and instilling that on the team and cleaning out the, we called it, ‘cancer’ on the team that was going to bring the team down. That was pretty much all the second year was.”
The talent was in the program, but the Royals weren’t a team. Senior midfielder Erick Jacobo was a prime example of the talent and Camden leveraged him as a sophomore to impact the rest of the team in a positive way.
“He’s been here through the black hole days and he’s seen the 5-0 losses,” Camden said. “He’s seen the 6-0 losses. He’s seen it all. He was at the old school. He’s seen the coaches go through.
“He was one of the main players that I wanted to talk to when I came on. I knew that he was going to be the guy that would instill our philosophy into the players. He was the one that a lot of people looked up to.”
When Camden brought on a new assistant staff — Martin Rourke and JV coach Christopher Wright — in 2011 during his first official year as head coach, the new approach began to pay off and the Royals won four games last year. The coaches were proud to see players like Jacobo go through that journey.
“To see him smiling this year having fun with the team,” Camden said. “He knows this is his last chance to make those memories. It’s good to have him part of the team to keep our vision alive on the field.”
The improvement hasn’t just been on the soccer field.
“One of the things that the coaches have been pushing is that we are student-athletes and that it’s not just about what we do on the pitch,” Steelquist said. “It’s about what we do in the classroom. By improving how the team is in the class, I think that it has paid off on the pitch.”
Suddenly the talent that has always been there has been revealing itself, like senior keeper Jose Del Rio, who has four shutouts this year. Camden expects Del Rio to play at the college level next year in community college and then transferring to a four year school. The Royals feature a one-two scoring punch of juniors Momodou Drammeh and Vinh Nham that has been deadly. Drammeh uses his lightning speed to get behind the defense and dishes to Nham, who is the team’s goal-scoring leader.
“I haven’t seen anyone else in the whole Wesco league with a ball, no one could beat (Drammeh),” Camden said. “He’s a very dangerous player. The thing about him is you can’t predict what he’s going to do. If I was an opponent I’d be scared to go against him.”
Suddenly the team that hoped to maybe crack the league’s top four at the beginning of the season, could conceivably make the state tournament, though the Royals aren’t ready to talk about that yet.
“Our immediate goal is to get past the first couple rounds of districts then we’ll re-evaluate,” Steelquist said.
The scary thing for opponents is that these Royals aren’t done getting better.
“I would say we are right on schedule,” Camden said. “We are definitely in the right direction.”
Coach: Ryan Camden (third year)
Season overview: The Royals are not going to win the Wesco 3A title, but no one predicted they would even be in the top half of the standings this year. After opening the season 1-2 the Royals went on a five-game win streak, capped by a 3-0 win over Marysville Getchell, who they are battling for second and third place in the standings along with Shorecrest. Lynnwood has played just one state-tournament game in school history, in 1986 — before anyone on the team was born. Although the team may not make it this year, the Royals, who will only lose four seniors after the season, appear headed in that direction.
Key Players: Jose Del Rio Sr., Momoduo Drammeh Jr., Soren Steelquist Jr., Vinh Nham Jr., Erick Jacobo Sr., Michael McFadden Fr.
Key Dates: May 2, season finale vs. Marysville-Getchell; May 5, first round of District 1 tournament.