The Kent-Meridian Royals boys soccer team had their historic season come to a close in a 5-0 defeat to Ballard High School in a Class 3A state tournament game at Interbay Stadium.
“They did a great job,” Kent-Meridian coach Brian Gabert said about the May 17 game. “They got us where we wanted to be, they put us in a position and gave us the opportunity we wanted.”
It’d been 42 years since the Royals had reached the state tournament. Kent-Meridian had the longest drought of any school in the state that has kept its doors open.
“I felt really excited bringing my team to state for the first time in over 20 years. I hope next year we’ll do the same,” junior Andres Zuluaga said.
The previous longest drought was Shoreline High School, which last made the state tournament in 1975. The school closed in 1986 due to declining enrollment and monetary issues.
Kent-Meridian’s drought ended with the Royals shutting out three opponents in the district tournament, something no other team did in the West Central District Tournament. However the Ballard Beavers found many ways to crack the Royal defense, it even baffled Gabert.
“You plan for everything, then they (Ballard) do something and you’re like ‘That should never be a goal’… And I’m like ‘How?’ you know,” he said.
In the first half Kent-Meridian had many good chances to score and take the early lead, but couldn’t capitalize on their opportunities.
“Right at the beginning we had those looks and I thought ‘We’re fine, everything is good.’ We had those great shots, and then 10 seconds later they come back and do the most inconceivable thing,” Gabert said.
Zuluaga had a more analytical approach to the conclusion of this game, Ballard had really tall defenders which was a challenge for the Royals.
“We need to play more as a team because they are taller. We can’t do as many long balls, we can have the ball more and not lose it as much,” he said.
By halftime, the Royals were trailing 3-0. It seemed out of reach but Kent-Meridian kept fighting. Over the entirety of the second half the Royals put pressure on the Beaver backline. There were many chances for Kent-Meridian to get on the board but they just could find the goal.
“We just had to keep our heads up. Yeah we missed but we got to keep the team spirit high because we were that close to scoring,” freshman Rashane Braidy said.
Ballard was able to add two more goals late, one of which was on a penalty kick from the dot.
A stark difference between these two teams were the Beavers had 17 rostered seniors and not one underclass player on their roster. On Kent-Meridian’s roster it had eight seniors and seven underclassmen including four freshmen. Two of those freshmen started.
Even though the result was not to be desired for the Royals, the experience and learning ability from a stage like the state tournament is.
“There are going to be some tough moments to overcome and we just have to push through, keep going and never give up,” Braidy said.
After the game, the seniors talked to the team and let them understand that just because they lost in the first round doesn’t mean they failed. They have a lot to be proud of.
“That’s what the captains were talking about. Like we’ve made progress… Every year we’re making progress and the guys are excited for that. We’ve never been this far.“ Gabert said.
The Royals have an extremely talented young core of players. Sophomore Irving Baca-Silva could win an MVP, Zuluaga is up there with the best first touch in possibly the state and extremely solid defensively, freshmen Johan Zuluaga-Loboa and Braidy have the speed and aggressiveness to compete at this level.
As a 19 seed, the Royals we’re going to have a tough road in front of them and the plan for coach Gabert next year is to make that road a little easier.
“I want to get this group a one of two seed in the league so we get the immediate winner to state game,” he said.