Sports

Pumas assistant to coach South Kitsap boys soccer

Professional soccer only reached Kitsap County a year ago.

But an extension of it already has reached South Kitsap.

Athletic director Ed Santos announced Tuesday that James Ritchie has been hired as the school’s boys soccer coach.

Ritchie, 28, an assistant coach and director of youth development for the Kitsap Pumas, was among three finalists who interviewed for the position.

“He had so much enthusiasm about working with kids,” said Santos, adding that Ritchie’s knowledge of the sport also stood out.

Ritchie replaces Michael Krug, who resigned after one season to focus on his Westsound FC club soccer coaching duties. Krug guided the Wolves to a 15-3-1 record and their first state championship last spring.

A native of Scotland — he grew up in Glasgow — Ritchie has played soccer throughout his life. Despite only being 5 foot 9, he was a goalkeeper, and continued to coach club after his playing career ended on Bainbridge Island.

One of his pupils was the daughter of Pumas executive director Ben Pecora, who recommended him to owner Robin Waite. Ritchie joined the team as an assistant coach last year and plans to continue in that role even though Kitsap’s season begins during the spring. He said he is not concerned about being overloaded with both roles.

“I love soccer,” said Ritchie, adding that he prefers a quick tempo. “It’s the best game in the world. I’m the happiest when I’m out on the field.”

Last year, Santos had to receive permission from the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association to allow Krug to coach because of his club duties. But he said Ritchie’s hiring is different because his work with youths is through clinics.

Santos planned to meet with Ritchie on Thursday to review rules and regulations, which he said is standard for any coaching hire.

From his experience working with youths, Ritchie said he is familiar with sophomore midfielder Diego Aceves-de la Cruz, whom he referred to as an “outstanding prospect.”

The Wolves graduated several of their top players off the championship team, including forward Justin Moore, who now is at Western Washington University, but Ritchie said that did not deter him for taking the position.

“It’s a great opportunity to coach a very good team,” he said.

Ritchie said he hopes to add a Pumas player to his coaching staff, but he declined to identify the athlete before it becomes official. Beyond that, Ritchie looks forward to the March 15 opener at North Kitsap.

“I can’t wait to get the boys on the field,” he said. “I just hope the boys will continue to be great ambassador for the high school.”

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