The No. 2-ranked Service Cougars boys soccer team was widely viewed as a long shot to unseat the top-ranked Dimond Lynx heading into last year’s Division I state title game. The underdogs were able to pull off the shocking upset over the presumptive favorites. Now as the 2022 season kicks off, the Cougars have the bull’s-eye on their backs as defending champions.
“Last year Dimond was better than us and we had an upset win, we were No. 2 and we played a great state championship game,” Service coach Dan Rufner said. “It’s hard being the top team because certainly we’re marked and everyone wants to get at us.”
Service is confident in its ability to make a strong title defense in 2022.
“A lot of teams are gunning for us,” senior Simon Carricaburu said. “We’re the team to beat this year and I think we can maintain our state title, but we got to get our stuff together.”
The Cougars were able to avenge a regular season sweep by Dimond with a 1-0 triumph in the 2021 title game, which happened to be the same slim margin of victory that the Lynx beat them by in their previous two meetings that year.
Service has opened the season with a 2-1-2 record. Carricaburu, who scored the game-winning goal in the state championship game, doesn’t believe the team has been playing up to par to start the season.
He cites a lack of playing together as a cohesive unit as the reason for their inconsistency in games they normally come out on top of. He is determined to try his best to ensure that those struggles won’t persist.
“Other teams will see this and think they can take the title from us, but I’m not going to let that happen this year,” Carricaburu said.
Service was able to dodge a loss last week against Bartlett. Trailing 1-0 in the final minutes, Carricaburu came up clutch for his team once again with a game-tying goal for a 1-1 tie.
“It is always great to be there to score the game-tying or game-winning goal, but I was just there and had the opportunity to take it,” Carricaburu said. “I feel like anyone can hit goals like that, and I just want to keep them coming.”
Bartlett was very physical with the Cougars throughout the game. With over two decades on the job and a pair of state titles under his belt, Rufner knows the path back to top is arduous and that they will get every team’s best shot moving forward.
“Teams are always coming out hard, so we know that’s going to be a challenge playing against physicality,” Rufner said. “I think it is going to be a tough road between us, South, West and Dimond all have a good chance so there is no easy road.”
Last year’s title-winning team was very young, mostly compiled of sophomores who are now juniors. There are only three seniors starting on this year’s team, but the trio helps lead the squad on and off the field.
“I’ve got 13 juniors in the program, which I’ve never had in 21 years,” Rufner said. “Simon (Carricaburu) and Everett (Manning) are good senior leaders, Aaron (Baffour) has done well up top for us so we have some good senior leadership out there,” Rufner said.
Getting in sync shouldn’t be hard or too take long for the young group of players as many of them have been competing on the same or opposing teams since their youth club soccer days.
“I’ve been playing with most of these kids my entire life,” Carricaburu said. “Pretty much our whole team is a bunch of Rush players and I’ve played against them and with them my entire life. I know the chemistry is here, we just have to link together.”
Last year’s team was led by 2021 Gatorade Player of the Year and All-Tournament team honoree Hatcher Manning, who is now a redshirt freshman at Division II Western Washington University. Even though they’re without one of the best soccer players to come out of the state in recent years, Carricaburu and the Cougars believe they can still compete at a high level and stand a good chance of repeating as champions.
“He was definitely our strongest player and he was a great player to pass the ball to,” Carricaburu said. “He would hold it up for us and make great plays off of it, but honestly, we play great soccer without him.”