PORT ANGELES — The Port Angeles boys soccer team begins its journey into the state playoffs tonight against the undefeated Tumwater Thunderbirds.
The Roughriders (10-4-4) have been on a roll themselves of late, and will go into state completely healthy and a full roster for the first time in a few games.
But they will be going against a determined and solid team that is 15-0-2 with a history of bad luck in state.
The game starts at 7 p.m. at the Tumwater High School stadium, 700 Israel Road in Tumwater.
The Thunderbirds have been to state seven times but have made it past the first round only once, and that was back in 1989.
They won league for the first time since 1996.
Not exactly a perennial powerhouse but don’t confuse this Evergreen Conference champion with any of those earlier teams.
“We happened to be blessed with a pretty magical year,” Tumwater coach Bryan Winkler told The Olympian newspaper.
One of the reasons for that is the team’s star player: German foreign exchange student Kevin Weyand, who has been playing soccer since the age of 3, and has been playing European select club soccer for many years.
The forward from Baumberg, Germany, scored 20 goals in the Thunderbirds’ 15 regular-season games and had four goals in a 5-3 win against Timberline.
Weyand told The Olympian that American high school soccer is much slower than European youth club soccer.
The Riders will have to keep their eyes on Weyand, of course, but luckily Port Angeles coach Chris Saari feels good about his defense as well as his team’s overall play.
“Everything is coming together right now,” Saari said.
The Port Angeles starting lineup is senior dominated with nine seniors and two juniors.
Senior defender Max Bukovnik will get the job of containing Weyand if the Tumwater forward needs marking, Saari said.
“Max Bukovnik is our man-marker in the back. If we need to double-team [Weyand], we will use our next closest player on the field.”
The Thunderbirds use a three-forward front, according to Saari, and the Riders will counter with a four-defender backfield.
“It starts in our backfield for us [with defense], our midfield is solid and we have speed up front,” Saari said about the Riders’ strengths.
While the Riders will be looking to contain Weyand, the Thunderbirds will be doing the same with forward Anthony Brandon, the Riders’ captain and speed demon.
Brandon was the top scorer for the Riders last year as a junior, and he leads the team again in 2012 with 15 goals through the regular season and 18 total through the playoffs.
“Anthony usually gets two breakaways per game with his speed,” Saari said.
Another senior forward who causes a lot of problems for opposing teams is Tamrat Haskins, who also plays midfield at times.
“Tamrat plays with a lot of energy,” Saari said.
The speed will come in handy at Tumwater’s turf field. The Riders have been practicing the past two nights on the turf at Peninsula College’s Sigmar Field to get used to playing on turf.
Port Angeles will throw experience, speed and some size against Tumwater.
The Riders aren’t huge physically, but the defense plays aggressive, physical ball and performs much bigger than its actual size.
“We have some players solid in size, and they are real aggressive and tenacious defenders,” Saari said.
Bukovnik and Owen Kays-Erdman are two of the bigger defenders in back while Jack Doryland has been outstanding in goal, earning seven shutouts on the year.
Kays-Erdman missed a few games because of injury but is back on the team just in time for the state run.
Hayden McCartney, a strong all-around three-sport athlete, is another strong defender who also roams the midfield.
Other starting seniors on the team include Sam Beasley, Kyle Bingham, Nicholas Ioffrida and Bobby Stevenson.
Doryland is one of the junior starters along with midfielder and forward Abinet Hayden.
The Riders will try to continue their season tonight on the road.
“We have gotten healthier at the right time,” Saari said.“We will try to fire on all cylinders and see how far we can take it. The kids were pumped after the Sumner win.”