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Conks surprised by fast start | Boys Soccer

Kentwood senior Garrett Rudolph dribbled toward the goal during a 4-0 win against Kentlake on April 9. The Conks have started the season 6-0-2 after failing to make the playoffs in 2013.  - Eric Mandel
Kentwood senior Garrett Rudolph dribbled toward the goal during a 4-0 win against Kentlake on April 9. The Conks have started the season 6-0-2 after failing to make the playoffs in 2013.
— image credit: Eric Mandel

Kentwood athletes are used to getting extra attention from their opponents.

It may be combative words and hype posted on Facebook and Twitter or just an extra oomph on the playing field itself. And although the Conquerors’ soccer squad hasn’t been known as a Goliath of the pitch for a few years, it hasn’t taken long for them to re-embrace their status as perma-archnemesies.

“We have a big target on our backs in a lot of sports,” said senior Brandyn Bangsund. “People want to beat us. When you are undefeated they want the underdogs to come in and get a win. It’s something we are well aware of.”

Half way through 4A South Puget Sound League play the Conks sit alone at the top, with a 6-0-2 record, one year after failing to make the postseason. The veteran group consists of 10 seniors who have learned to finish games, unlike last year when they settled for too many ties. But even with all the returning experience, the fast start has gone beyond even their own expectations.

“I thought we would be in second or third place (at this point in the season),” said head coach Aaron Radford.

“We were predicting to be good or maybe below average,” added Bangsund. “We were very undecided as to where we were going to be.”

The lack of high expectations came, in part, because of few truly dynamic players on the Kentwood team. Radford, in his ninth year as coach, said this is one of the most cohesive groups he’s ever led, who have found ways to win when maybe they shouldn’t have.

Bangsund agreed.

“As individuals we don’t do anything outstanding, but as a team we do play great soccer,” Bangsund said.

The biggest game came in March against defending state champion Thomas Jefferson, where Kentwood unlocked a tie with under a minute to play. Radford said his team was probably outplayed that day, but still managed to find its way to victory.

Bangsund called that win a confidence booster and “big eye opener.”

“We’re still building that chemistry together,” Bangsund said. “I think we’re improving in lots of different categories.”

Bangsund, who has helped lead the surprising start, sacrificed a bit of his physical future in order to contribute. The center midfielder tore the MCL in his left knee four games into 2013 and, after four months of rehab, tore it again playing football. Bangsund’s surgeon told him he could play soccer if the ligament was partially removed, though that could limit his ability to walk when he gets into his 50s or 60s.

Bangsund said the decision was actually quite easy.

“I’m trying to live right now, at the moment,” said Bangsund, 18. “I’ve played soccer since I was three. I love this sport. I love the game.”

The Conk’s pre- and post-game cheer is simple: “1-2-3, win!” They’ve taken that straightforward mindset to the field. And though it hasn’t always been pretty, it’s certainly been effective.

At home against winless Kentlake on April 9, the Conks dominated possession and shots on goal but led just 1-0 through the first 75 minutes of the game, leaving Radford on edge.

After quelling one of the Falcons’ few attacks, Kentwood stormed downfield for a goal. Three minutes later, a white jersey broke away for an easy score. Fast forward one more minute and a one-touch shot looped over the Kentlake goalie’s outstretched arms. Just like that, three goals in less than five minutes, and the blowout was complete.

“After the first 75 minutes I didn’t think we’d get to 4-0, by any means,” Radford said.

Kentwood won the league title in 2011 and finished third in state that year. Radford said every team will continue to get better and crisper as the season progresses, which means his group needs to follow suit if they want to remain public school enemy No. 1.

“You’ve gotta expect the second time around will be that much harder,” Radford told his team after the Kentlake win. “We’re in a good position, but we still have eight games to go.”

 

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