The No. 2 on the Service Cougars boys’ soccer team was widely viewed as a long shot to oust top-seeded Dimond Lynx, who went into last year’s Division I title game. The underdogs were able to pull off the shocking excitement over the putative favorites. Now that the 2022 season begins, the Cougars have their sights set on the bull’s-eye as defending champions.
“Last year Dimond were better than us and we had an upset win, we were No. 2 and we played a great state championship game,” said service coach Dan Rufner. “It’s hard to be the top team because we’re certainly marked and everyone wants to get close to us.”
Service is confident it can pull off a strong title defense in 2022.
“A lot of teams are shooting at us,” said senior Simon Carricaburu. “We’re the team to beat this year and I think we can defend our state title, but we have to pull ourselves together.”
The Cougars avenged a regular-season win from Dimond with a 1-0 triumph in the 2021 title game, which happened to be the same narrow margin of victory the Lynx had beaten them by in their previous two encounters that year.
Service opened the season with a 2-1-2 record. Carricaburu, who scored the deciding goal in the state championship match, doesn’t believe the team played on even terms at the start of the season.
He cites a lack of shared play as a cohesive entity as the reason for their inconsistency in games where they typically excel. He is determined to do his best to ensure these fights don’t continue.
“Other teams will see that and think they can take the title from us, but I won’t let that happen this year,” said Carricaburu.
Service avoided defeat against Bartlett last week. Carricaburu trailed 1-0 in the closing minutes and scored again for his team to seal the deal in a 1-1 draw.
“It’s always great to be there to score the crucial goal or the decisive goal, but I was just there and had the opportunity to take it,” said Carricaburu. “I feel like anyone can achieve goals like this and I just want them to come.”
Bartlett was very physical with the Cougars throughout the game. With over two decades on the job and two state titles under his belt, Rufner knows the road back to the top will be arduous and they will use every team’s best shot to move forward.
“Teams always play tough, so we know playing against physicality is going to be a challenge,” Rufner said. “I think it’s going to be a tough road between us, South, West and Dimond all have a good chance so there’s no easy road.”
Last year’s title-winning team was very young, made up mostly of sophomores who are now juniors. There are only three seniors starting in this year’s squad, but the trio help lead the squad on and off the field.
“I have 13 juniors in the program, which I’ve never had in 21 years,” said Rufner. “Simon (Carricaburu) and Everett (Manning) are good leaders, Aaron (Baffour) did well for us at the top so we have some good leaders out there,” Rufner said.
Synchronization shouldn’t be difficult or take too long for the young group of players as many of them have been playing in the same or opposing teams since their youth club football days.
“I’ve played with most of these kids my whole life,” Carricaburu said. “Pretty much our entire team is a bunch of Rush players and I’ve played against and with them my entire life. I know the chemistry is right, we just have to join forces.”
Last year’s team was led by Hatcher Manning, the 2021 Gatorade Player of the Year and All-Tournament Team honoree, who is now a redshirt freshman at Division II Western Washington University. Even though they left the state without one of the best football players in recent years, Carricaburu and the Cougars believe they can still compete at a high level and have a good chance of repeating themselves as champions.
“He was definitely our strongest player and he was a great player to pass the ball,” said Carricaburu. “He would hold it up for us and make great games out of it but frankly we play great football without him.”