STANWOOD — With a spectacular season debut, Shintaro Wilcox sent the grass field at Bob Larson Stadium out in style.
After being sidelined for the Stanwood boys soccer team’s first six matches, the junior striker returned in grand fashion with a third-minute goal Tuesday night.
And after a second-half response by Mountlake Terrace, he answered right back with a 77th-minute game-winner.
Wilcox’s two-goal performance and late heroics lifted the Spartans to a dramatic 2-1 win over Mountlake Terrace in the last sporting event at Stanwood’s on-campus stadium before the grass field gets replaced with artificial turf.
“They’ve had a lot of struggles on this field and a lot of really tough days on this field, and to end it on a positive note, it’s a great thing,” Spartans coach Steve Brown said.
“And to do it in the way they did — to persevere in the end — it’s a great testament to these guys. They were all excited. They wanted to leave this field with a victory, … so it was really cool.”
With the victory, Stanwood (3-3-1 overall, 2-2-1 Wesco 3A/2A) has already matched its win total from last season. And with one more win, the Spartans would equal their most victories in a season since 2014.
Stanwood had a particularly young team last year that grew toward the end of the season, winning three of its last four regular-season matches to help build a foundation heading into this spring.
“Coming in this season, they definitely set some high, lofty goals that they want to reach,” Brown said. “They’re just ecstatic right now that they are where they are.”
Wilcox made his season debut Tuesday after being sidelined with the flu and just recently reaching the minimum of 10 practices to become eligible to play.
The talented striker wasted no time making his presence felt. Just three minutes into the match, Wilcox fired a volley into the back of the net from 10 yards out to give the Spartans an early 1-0 lead.
Then after Mountlake Terrace (2-2-2, 2-2-0) took advantage of a Stanwood blunder to net a 67th-minute equalizer, Wilcox responded with his late game-winner.
After chasing down a 40-yard aerial pass from teammate TJ Rowley, Wilcox beat the goalkeeper with a well-placed finish to ultimately lift the Spartans to victory.
“He’s just an amazing striker,” Brown said. “He’s definitely a playmaker, and he makes things happen. … It was just an outstanding performance, especially for his first game this year.”
With construction beginning next week to Bob Larson Stadium, this marked the last of just four home matches for Stanwood this spring. So despite their season being less than halfway complete, the Spartans held their senior-night festivities prior to Tuesday’s unusually early home finale.
Stanwood will hit the road for its final nine regular-season matches as crews begin work at the stadium.
“It is a challenge,” Brown said of playing every remaining match away from home. “Fortunately, we knew far ahead of time that this was going to be the case, and so we’ve been preparing the kids for it.”
Stanwood High School is undergoing construction of a new campus, which is expected to open in 2021. The on-campus construction includes upgrades to the school’s athletic facilities, such as Bob Larson Stadium.
Most notably, the stadium’s grass will be replaced with FieldTurf. Grass fields have become a rarity across the state, with artificial turf being much easier to maintain than grass.
Stanwood athletic director Tom Wilfong said the addition of turf also should provide the school a better chance of hosting postseason events.
“I love grass — don’t get me wrong — but it’s that time to move to the FieldTurf,” Wilfong said. “It’s just so much easier. You get more games in, (and) you’re able to host postseason games. With our grass field, especially in soccer, we’ve had to relinquish that ability if our field is bad at playoff time.”
With virtually every other team playing on turf, Brown said it will be a major benefit to be able to practice on turf instead of grass.
“When you practice on grass and you go to the turf, the ball runs totally differently,” he said. “It usually takes us close to a half to catch up and get used to that pace, just because it is so different.
“So being able to practice on that surface that we’re going to be playing on, it’s going to be a huge benefit to these guys. They’re really looking forward to that.”
Other planned upgrades to Bob Larson Stadium include the installation of LED lighting, a resurfaced track and reconfiguration of the field events. The playing surface also will be widened to allow for a regulation-sized soccer field.
Wilfong said there won’t be any changes to the stadium’s grandstands, aside from a paint job. The stadium is expected to be ready for use again by Sept. 1.
The drawback to all of the on-campus construction is the logistical challenges it’s placed on Stanwood’s spring sports teams.
For instance, in addition to playing its remaining matches on the road, the soccer team will have to adjust its practice schedule. Beginning in mid-April, the Spartans will move their practices to evenings at Port Susan Middle School — instead of afternoons on campus.
“Logistically, it’s been a nightmare — especially relocating practices,” Wilfong said of the construction’s impact on Stanwood teams.
But in the end, he said, it definitely will be worth it.
“You just love to be able to give kids a new facility — something to be proud of,” Wilfong said. “And I think that this is going to be top of the line.”
And for the soccer team, there’s another plus: Because of the two-year home-and-away scheduling agreement, the Spartans will have a whopping 12 home matches next season at its revamped stadium.
“They’re looking at the good side,” Brown said. “We’re going to have a ton of home games next year.”