Times were getting tough for the Issaquah boys soccer program.
The last three years, the team won just seven games, lost 32 and tied nine. In 2007, they went winless at 0-13-3. In fact, the last time an Eagles squad had more wins than losses was in 2003, when they went 10-4-1.
“We did go through a lot of those growing pains,” said Jason Lichtenberger, who is in his fourth year as head coach, and assisted the five previous years.
The stretch of difficult times appears to have reached its end in 2009, however.
In its first eight games, Issaquah is 7-1 and ranked No. 6 in the latest National Soccer Coaches Association of America/adidas Region V poll — a list of top-ranked teams from Washington, Alaska and California. The Eagles have already won as many games as they did the three previous years combined.
“The last couple of years we’ve kind of been the joke of the school — it’s different this year,” said senior midfielder Larry Schneider, referring to the high regional ranking.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the turnaround lies in the fact that Issaquah’s roster is virtually the same.
The Eagles have added just one sophomore to their roster. The rest of the team is made up of nine seniors and 11 juniors — 12 of those athletes had some role on last year’s varsity squad.
So, why the drastic change in 2009? There’s one common answer among teammates.
“Everyone’s matured a lot, the team is a lot more experienced,” junior forward Lucas Morias said.
Fellow junior Junpei Tsuji concurred.
“I’ve noticed we’re way more united this year, and we’re playing a lot harder,” he said. “We’re playing well together at practices and in games too.”
There were times during last year’s 3-10-3 season where Issaquah blew big leads to the league’s top teams — in particular a pair of back-to-back losses to Newport and Mercer Island. The Eagles took two-goal leads in both games, only to lose the lead in the second half, and fall in overtime. The tough losses wore hard on teammates.
“We definitely got chippy at each other in some games, because we blew a couple of big leads,” Schneider said.
According to Schneider, the ability to keep the negativity off the field has been crucial to early success.
“It’s a really similar team from last year, but I think we’re really a much more unified team this year,” he said. “You can tell that by the way we pass the ball the around, the way we get along.”
Lichtenberger also introduced a new program to his team through the Pacific Institute. Once a week Issaquah players sit down in a classroom environment and go over mental aspects of the game with project managers from the institute. The US Olympic swim team and the USC football team have used the same techniques.
“It’s a 12-step program, and it’s all about how their mind works and how they can achieve their greatest potential,” Lichtenberger said. “It’s a really fun course for them.”
While maturity and new coaching techniques have led to early-season success, one thing is for certain — Issaquah isn’t settling.
“We worked a lot of building the belief that they could do this,” Lichtenberger said. “We’ve got the KingCo championship on our minds, we’ve got the state championship on our minds, and several other goals along the way.”
Goals: Larry Schneider (5), Lucas Morais (3), Quinn Grisham (3), Manuel Brugger (2), Andrew Schubert (2), Michael Axelson (2), Kelby Lemons (2), Junpei Tsuji (1), Kyle Pedersen (1). Assists: Lucas Morais (3), Quinn Grisham (3), Manuel Brugger (2), Junpei Tsuji (2), Kyle Pedersen (2). Shutouts: Stephen Jacobson (3).