The best start in Jackson boys soccer history didn’t come as any surprise to senior co-captains Kevin Springer or Kevin Luangrath.
Even though the Timberwolves were coming off a season in which they won only five of 17 games, both Springer and Luangrath had a feeling that Jackson was headed for a dramatic turnaround. They were right.
It took only five games for the Wolfpack to match last year’s total victory total.
Luangrath noted that Jackson returns almost its entire roster from 2007 with nine starters back.
“I knew we were going to have the same team as last year,” Luangrath said. “Everyone just bonded really well and so it (success) was no surprise. … We know each other’s style. Everyone was not on the same page (last year) and this year everything is really clicking on and off the field.”
The biggest difference Springer, a first-team, all-league goalkeeper, has noticed among his teammates is confidence. Before each game, Springer and his teammates gather and recite a chant that he thought up while at a preseason gathering at Camp Brotherhood.
“I yell ‘We believe’ and they yell ‘We succeed,’” and it kind of pumps us up for every game,” Springer said. “Every game we started out with high intensity. Everyone is just having faith with each other and playing as one group. It’s been a great start for us.”
No where was that great start more evident than in the Timberwolves’ 4-1 season-opening victory over Meadowdale on March 14. Luangrath scored a goal off an assist from Ben Todd 30 seconds into the game.
“You could just see everyone was so passionate about it,” Springer said. “That was a game you could totally tell we wanted it. We knocked the ball around beautifully.”
Second-year coach Brett Norton expected the Wolfpack to be a competitive team but he admits to being surprised by Jackson’s success.
“We’re still pretty young,” he noted. “We only have four seniors on the roster. … We’re made up of six juniors, four sophomores and four freshmen. In my eyes we’re still pretty young compared to other rosters.”
Springer isn’t really concerned about the relative lack of experience among his teammates. For him, it’s all about the level of talent the players bring to the field.
At practice, the focus is on soccer not on grade levels.
“It’s just nothing but soccer players out there,” Springer said. “We really did a lot of team bonding kind of events at the beginning of the year to try and build the freshmen’s confidence and get them used to the upperclassmen. They’ve kind of matured into playing with the bigger boys very well.”
Defense has been one of the strengths to start the season as Jackson has recorded three shutouts in its first five contests.
“(Springer) had huge expectations this year,” Luangrath said. “He’s definitely living up to them.”
Jackson’s offense is fueled by its defense. The Wolfpack is a defense-oriented team that relies on its counterattack.
“We look at the defense as the first attackers,” Norton said. “Once they get the ball they lead the attack by their distribution choices and we’re pretty strong there. Once we get into the offensive zone is where we need to get some patience and find the right choices up there.”
Luangrath leads the Timberwolves with six goals through last week.
“He’s really started out the season with a bang,” Springer said.
Luangrath’s biggest goal of the season so far was a game-winner over Mountlake Terrace with one minute left in double overtime.
The senior leadership of Luangrath and Springer have played a key role in Jackson’s strong start, Norton said. “They’re the ones leading this crew.”
The rest of the scoring has been spread out amongst four other players.
“There’s a new character stepping in in every game,” Springer said. “Everyone is contributing. Some of them are stepping off the bench.”
With a relatively young squad, Jackson doesn’t have much size. What the Timberwolves do best is knock around the ball and play at a high speed, Springer said.
“We really like to rely on our speed,” Luangrath added.
In spite of a 4-0 loss to Kamiak on March 28, Jackson remains very much in the hunt for a postseason berth. The Timberwolves last advanced to the district playoffs in 2002.
“The team is very committed to make the next step in our development. …. We are very confidence that we will find success at the end,” Norton said.