The players lined up in unison as soon as the starting lineup was announced.
Those who were not bestowed with that honor had questions for new South Kitsap boys soccer coach Cory Vartanian.
Specifically, they wanted to know what they had not done — and where they could improve — before the season began this week. It is a process that Vartanian does not expect to end anytime soon.
“It’s a very competitive group,” Vartanian said. “It’s a tough group to set a starting lineup. What is going to stand out is who communicates the best and who really are the smartest players off the ball.”
The Wolves, who won the Class 4A state championship in 2009, were expected to contend for a playoff berth last year with the last remaining member of that title squad, midfielder Diego de la Cruz. But de la Cruz was required to sign a contract with his club team, Crossfire Premier, that he would not play with South. Crossfire does not allow any of its players to compete for a high school. Without de la Cruz, the Wolves missed the playoffs with a 6-6-4 record.
Vartanian, the school’s fifth coach in the last six seasons, expects South to improve on that mark this year. That is because the Wolves return most of their top players from last season, including senior defenders Connor Bitterman and Austin Hammer, and senior Daniel Henry and junior Aaron Weathington in the midfield. Senior forwards Bryton Owen and Cameron Harris and goalkeeper Jaxom Beverage also are back.
“We’ve got so many guys returning who played such a huge role last year,” Vartanian said. “We have great depth. I’m looking forward to seeing how they progressed.”
Vartanian said his philosophy and schemes are similar to former coach Julie Cain, whom he worked for as an assistant in 2012. He believes the biggest difference from a year ago will be the squad’s ability to execute.
“The difference is this year we have so many returning seniors and seniors that are going to be playing,” he said. “We’re still going to pass, move and communicate off the ball.”
Despite that, Vartanian said he has lingering questions as South immediately enters league play this week. The Wolves hosted Stadium in their opener Wednesday and play tonight at Central Kitsap.
“Are we going to be able to finish up top?” Vartanian said. “Are we going to be able to possess in the midfield? Are we going to be able to play smart in the back?”
Vartanian is serious — he is emphatic that he will end the coaching turnover rate within the school’s boys soccer program — but he also has a jovial side. Perhaps that comes with peers mistaking him for their pupils.
“Even today if I have a mug and I’m drinking my coffee in the morning, I’ll get yelled at by certain teachers not to have an open container in the hallway,” he said, laughing. “I’m glad that I look young, but if you look at my hair you’ll see the grays that show my age.”