Only a year after capturing its first KingCo 4A league title, the Juanita boys soccer team finds itself in uncharted waters.
A classification curveball has dropped the Rebels, 12-4-1 last season, to KingCo 3A/2A, a conference that features teams the school hasn’t matched up with in years.
“My boys won and got relegated to 3A,” laughed Juanita coach Kevin Lamb at a recent Rebels practice. “But to be perfectly honest with you, I think 3A is better than 4A this year.”
The Rebels are off to a 1-4 start, but that doesn’t have Lamb worried; Juanita started 1-3 last season before rolling on to the conference title. What should have Lamb worried, however, is the loss of KingCo 4A MVP Tyler Bjork, the conference’s leading scorer last year with 16 goals and 12 assists. Bjork, the fourth-leading scorer at Western Washington University this past season as a freshman, was the key player that Juanita’s attack ran through, Lamb said.
“He was just a spectacular player,” Lamb said. “He drew so much attention that when he finally gave the ball up, those guys were wide open. It’s a huge loss and that’s what we’re feeling now.”
Juanita also lost second-leading scorer Genaro Jimenez; both his and Bjork’s spot are being filled by freshman including Kennedy Sousa, who has already scored three goals as the team’s main striker.
“Our goal scoring this year has got to come from everybody,” said midfielder Garrett Lee, a junior captain. “Last year we kind of relied on Tyler. This year it’s on all of us.”
Lee, who also scored six goals last year, is being counted on by Lamb to provide a big boost in the middle for the Rebels.
“If I could have Tyler Bjork or Garrett for two more years, I’d take Garrett,” Lamb said. “He doesn’t stand out, and that’s because he doesn’t do anything flashy. He just does everything right.”
Juanita also returns fellow captains Tanner Klein and Mason Bochner. Bochner, a senior center/mid and Klein, a junior center/defender, are among the others Lamb is counting on to have big years.
The Rebels have also had to cope with the absence of starting goalkeeper Seth Kuhns, who missed the first few games with academic issues. Juanita lost its first three games before beating Interlake 3-1 on March 27 to get its first win.
“We’ve been possessing well in the games,” Klein said. “But what we need to work on is getting rid of the five-minute lapses where we just let down.”
Lamb pins many of the struggles of the intricacies of the Juanita system, pointing out that as a possession team, it takes players a bit to get used to.
“A lot of the high school teams here play very direct; up and down the field at 100 miles per hour,” Lamb said. “We play a lot of passing and a lot of skill play on the ground. That takes some time to come together. There’s a bit of a learning curve and you really limit yourself to what you can do in the beginning.”
The important thing, players say, is that the team must come together. There are no Tyler Bjork’s to score 16 goals this year.
“We don’t have any game-changing players,” Klein said, “so we need to have game-changing plays.”
“We came out of nowhere last year,” Bochner added. “We’ll hit that consistent streak again soon.”
Juanita will travel to Mercer Island Friday. Gametime is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.