Seniors on Kentwood’s boys soccer team want to find a way to channel their frustrations.
There are the early season frustrations that come with learning to play together again.
The frustrations that come with being a Kentwood athlete.
Most of all, though, there is the frustration borne out of getting a match away from the state title game a year ago and coming up just shy in a 2-1 loss to Eastlake.
Sure, the Conquerors went on to take third, but that wasn’t enough for seniors Chris Kubeja, Eli Peterson and Hunter Pyne.
They wanted to bring home Kentwood’s first boys soccer state crown just like the girls soccer squad had done in the fall.
“It’s tough because we want to find each other again,” Peterson said. “At the end of last season we were playing so well, we came into this season with high expectations. We want to be a team instead of individuals who are good athletes.”
Those expectations are higher after what the Conks accomplished last year, Pyne said, “and it’s just a higher level of playing.”
Kubeja said the team, which returns 15 players of which eight were starters a year ago, has one goal in mind: win the state title.
13-0-3 and at the top of the division a year ago with a 17-2-3 overall record.
From goal, Kubeja plans to try and use his experience as a field player on his select team to help coordinate the Kentwood attack as well as defense.
“I can conduct people and direct them,” he said. “And I can relate to them and not just be in my own little world.”
It’s worth noting that last year was the first time Kubeja ever played in goal.
“Last year, my first time on varsity… they asked me to play goalie,” he said. “Now I understand my team needed me. If my teammates didn’t give me the support I needed, I would be the player I am today.”
That support came from Peterson and a group of other players who pulled him aside and told Kubeja he could take charge in the net.
“Chris, he’s one of the best keepers in the state,” Pyne said.
And while learning to play together again after nine months playing with club teams can be challenging, Peterson said, the players count on the way Aaron Radford coaches them.
“The way Radford and Tony trains us all year prepares us all year to peak at the end of the year,” Peterson said. “The way we train is designed for a playoff run.”
All three seniors know that there is going to be considerable pressure for the Conks to do well again this season.
“It’s that expectation that you have to do what’s needed,” Peterson said. “The community at school is different, too. Because you go to Kentwood, the entire league expects you to win. That’s part of the culture of Kentwood.”
Athletes at Kentwood, he added, are expected to win and leave a legacy.
Kubeja wouldn’t have it any other way even if it doesn’t mean the stakes are higher.
“My whole life I’ve been playing sports but Kentwood is the place I want to be because of the people,” he said. “It’s different than any place I’ve been before.”
With that being said, Pyne added, the Kentwood players know what they have to do.
“With our success that we had last year, it’s an even target, so we have to be prepared for that,” Pyne said. “There’s no doubt that we want to go back and win state. What helped us last year was how Radford prepared us.”
Peterson noted there was much to learn from last year’s playoff run, particularly the semi-final loss to Eastlake.
“If you look at the score of that game, it’s not an indicator of what that game was like,” Peterson said. “They scored on a corner. They scored off a broken play.”
This year the team is starting off on a positive note and learning how to communicate.
“As long as our work ethic is strong together as a team, there’s no doubt about how far we can go,” Kubeja said. “The communication part is one of the best parts.”
Early on Kentwood will deal with some challenges. First, the team starts off the season with Thomas Jefferson, always a tough opponent. Plus, there are several new boys on the team, so developing positive communication on and off the field will take some work.
“There was a point last year when we started playing together as a team,” Peterson said. “There’s some new faces this year. It’ll take two games for them to figure that out.”
Though there are things which are challenging, Kubeja said, those can be motivating forces.
“Right now you have to be frustrated,” he said. “It makes you want to work on what’s frustrated.”
Peterson stated that the Conks can also learn from the time in the not so distant past they lost to the Royals from Kent-Meridian who hadn’t won a game in a while nor beaten their cross-district rival.
In the tough South Puget Sound League North, Pyne said, “every game you have to be ready.”
“We feel like we’re good enough to beat any time in the state,” Peterson said. “But, we have to come together. It’s on us.”