Westivew boys soccer ends drought, wins Class 6A state title
In elementary school, playing together and against each other on Saturday afternoons it was clear Westview had something unique.
Nick Younkins, Takumi Jankovsky, Broden Schull, Liam Gouldsbrough and Kellan Pinson were the toast of the Wildcat feeder programs as 10-year-old tykes with huge soccer dreams, tearing up club teams, torching opponents with prodigious skill sets and a team-wide bond that couldn't be punctured.
Even as pre-teens, the young Wildcats captured the attention of the Beaverton-area. They were pegged early on as the sort of team that one day could take Westview to the promised land.
"My friend was like, 'Man our grade is so nice, can you imagine when we're in high school playing on the same team? We could win state!'" Younkins said with a laugh.
On Saturday in the Class 6A state championship game against archrival Jesuit, Westview fulfilled its destiny. In a rematch of Metro League titans who shared the conference crown after tying each other 1-1 during the regular season, the Wildcats scored two first-half goals off headers from Ryan Park and Liam Kiger to take a 2-0 lead. This time, the No. 1 Crusaders couldn't answer. Westview's defense limited Jesuit to just one shot on goal and helped secure the state championship win, 2-0 at Hillsboro Stadium on Saturday.
"We wanted it more tonight," Younkins said. "The first time we played them we kind of underestimated Jesuit, to be honest. We were complacent going in and didn't get our groove going. We knew if we played a hard 80 minutes we would most likely walk away with a title. We were hungry. We were going to leave everything out on the field."
"We've dreamed about this since freshmen year," Liam Kiger said. "We've been coming here every year watching (the state title) game and wanted to be a part of it. We actually won it, so it's amazing."
Over the course of the season, few teams improved from the first non-league game to the title tilt than Jesuit. The Crusaders began the year 1-1-3, looking like a team fated for a short playoff stay. Senior star Samir Johnson missed most of the regular season with a knee injury. So, to turn the season around, reach the title game and do so by playing great in the postseason was something Jesuit could take solace in.
"I'm extremely proud of this team," Jesuit junior defender Jack Chestnut said. "It was a huge effort from everybody. We have a lot of heart and character. We weren't sure we were going to make the playoffs, let alone get first in Metro. But every day we put in the work to get to this point. To get (to the state championship) was huge."
Park's score came off a long, over-the-head throw-in from Younkins who was situated on the right sideline. The senior captain heaved the ball in the middle of a pack of Cats and Crusaders, but it was Park who climbed the proverbial ladder, put his forehead on the ball and popped it over Jesuit goalie Nolan Aylward's reach to go up 1-0 just five minutes into the first.
"I was supposed to be a distraction because I'm one of the shorter guys out there," Park said with a laugh. "I honestly don't even remember the shot, but I flicked it, (the ball) went over and in. 1-0, it was great."
Park's first goal of the season couldn't have come at a more opportune time. Amongst the angular Crusaders defenders and formidable Wildcat forwards, it was the 5-foot-8 Park who vaulted himself into Wildcat folklore.
"I don't think anybody expected him to get that high," Dane Kiger said with a smile. "He was there. Nobody was on him and he was able to flick it in."
Thirty minutes later, Westview midfielder Alex Monroy put a hesitation move on the Crusader defense to get loose down the left side of the pitch, spotted Kiger in the middle of the field and sent a perfect left-footed cross toward the tall Kiger's direction. Kiger barely had to move to meet the ball with his head to bop it into the left corner of the goal to give Westview a 2-0 halftime lead.
"We knew how to handle Jesuit this time," Liam Kiger said. "Our game plan worked perfectly because that's exactly what we practiced all week — set pieces and crosses. We finished our chances way better than the last time we played them. That was the main thing. Defensively both teams are really good, so it was going to come down to whoever was better at finishing."
"Liam was probably the best player on the field tonight," Younkins said. "He's going to make a lot of winning plays. He's amazing and he threw his body out there to get it."
Johnson had four of Jesuit's six first-half shots, but the Crusaders couldn't cash in against Schull, who had one save. One shot, in particular, was oh-so-close to crossing the goal line midway through the first half for Jesuit, but Schull came up with the stop and cleared the ball away.
"It was unfortunate we gave up those goals because in the first half I felt like we had the better chances," Chestnut said. "But that's just the way it is. This wasn't the best game we've played this season, but we still created some chances. That's the way soccer is."
Dane Kiger said Westview's coaching staff had him stay back defensively in a right-back/center-back position to help protect the net and cover Johnson, Seifu Zerabruk, and Cesar Cruz, all of whom were capable of overtaking a game by themselves.
And the Wildcat defense, spearheaded by Dane Kiger and Younkins, played a smart match, not gambling for steals, not trying to take the ball away to trigger the offense. They contained the Crusaders and kept them in front of them, holding Jesuit to just one second-half shot.
"We've all played with those (Jesuit) guys in club and we knew when they had the ball we had to stand them up and get the ball out," Younkins said. "Mostly we tried to keep it away from them. If they don't have the ball, they're not going to be dangerous. That's something we've discussed all season — limiting good players' opportunities on the ball."
The road to the Class 6A state championship wasn't always hurdle-free. Three years of second round-and-out heartbreak stiffened Westview's resolve. There were crushing upsets and utter tearjerkers. Yet, the original Wildcat crew got a boost when twin brothers Liam and Dane Kiger moved from Bend before their sophomore seasons. Westview continued to sharpen its prowess as a whole, playing together on various club teams, keeping their brotherhood intact while improving individually.
Head coach Jon Fresh was brought in before the 2017 season and came to 185th Avenue with a new perspective and an innovative offense. Westview's talent level was unquestionably tops in the state, it was just a matter of could it all come together at the right time.
This season everything clicked. The Wildcats scored a preposterous 76 goals in the regular season and playoffs combined, 26 more than McMinnville who finished with 50, second-most in 6A. Their style was scintillating and explosive. Jankovsky, Velasco and Monroy made up what Liam Kiger said was the best playmaking midfield in 6A, hands down.
Liam Kiger and Jonathan Gutierrez-Saucedo comprised perhaps the top scoring forward duo in the state. Dane Kiger, Younkins and Schull anchored a backline that not only held it down defensively but contributed to the offensive end of the field. It was a full cache of weaponry, from the last line of defense in Schull to the front in Gutierrez-Saucedo who was one of the top scorers in the state.
Fresh was Westview's rookie skipper who inherited a loaded group equipped with 18 seniors who had never been past the second round of the playoffs. The Wildcats certainly weren't lacking in talent or chemistry. Many of their key players competed together on the same elite travel teams in the off-season and enjoyed doing so. Camaraderie was one of Westview's best character traits as a club. What Fresh did was make the high school game fun again.
Practices were crisp and focused, but light-hearted. With so much senior leadership on the roster, Fresh let the players have a say in everything from practice times to play style to strategy. Plus, he took the pressure off a team that had once come up short in the second season. He was a new voice who empowered his players with confidence and trust. Westview became a player's program and therefore a state champion.
"(Fresh) brought new hope to the program," Younkins said. "We got a new start for our senior year ... it was just a different attitude this year. (Fresh) did a great job of having everybody love each other. We loved every minute of it. In the past, high school soccer was kind of a chore away from club. But this year we had a ton of fun. That was the secret to staying positive in the playoffs and getting wins."
Where Westview goes from here will be interesting for certain. Only Park, Jose Sarabia-Maldonando Akiva Wickramanratna, and Brady Sledd will be back in 2018. The state title game was the final match for Pinson, Schull, Younkins, Gouldsbrough, both Kigers, Monroy, Jankovsky, Velasco, Julio Diaz, Christian Lope Trinidad, Carlos Rivera and Chris Allen.
Meanwhile Jesuit will bring back 18 players off the varsity roster, including its entire defense and Aylward, who was one of the best goalies in the state.