Sports

Soccer preview: Wolves will defend title with a lot of new faces

SCHEDULE

Saturday Robert Service 11 a.m.

April 13 at Lincoln 7 p.m.

April 15 Gig Harbor 7 p.m.

April 17 at Bellarmine Prep 7 p.m.

April 20 Wilson 7 p.m.

April 27 Shelton 7 p.m.

April 29 at Stadium 7:15 p.m.

Coach: James Ritchie, first season.

Key returners: MF Diego Aceves-de la Cruz, jr.; MF Nico de la Cruz, sr.; D Dixon Hammer, sr.; D Ian Jose, sr.; MF Ryan Kennedy, sr.; MF Erik Trogdon, sr.

Top newcomers: MF Kieran Prince, fr.; D Connor Weaver, fr.

Key departures: D Jesse Askew, graduated; GK Daniel Lathrop, graduated; F Justin Moore, graduated; F Brent Ricigliano, graduated; D Jason Skolnik, graduated.

South Kitsap players hoisted the first boys state championship trophy in school history less than 10 months ago.

But much has changed during that time.

Gone are coach Michael Krug and 10 seniors, including three-year starting goalkeeper Daniel Lathrop and forward Justin Moore, the Class 4A state player of the year, who now competes at Western Washington University.

The Wolves also are without senior midfielder Nico de la Cruz, who had surgery on his left knee and is not expected back until sometime next month.

Despite that, South entered the week with three consecutive wins following a 1-0 loss in its March 15 season opener at North Kitsap. New coach James Ritchie, who also fills the same role at Olympic College and is an assistant for the Kitsap Pumas, is the program’s third director in as many years.

“I don’t think that will affect them too much,” he said, adding that the players have been well-coached in the past.

Senior Gavin Klein, one of the few returning players from last year’s team that finished with a 15-3-1 record, is not concerned about the transition.

“It hasn’t made that big of a difference for me,” he said. “Every (coach) has brought their own style of play and it’s been a really good thing.”

The Wolves long have prided themselves on the defensive end from Eric Bergeson’s 11-year tenure to Krug’s lone season, where they won three playoff shootouts before their 2-1 victory against Pasco for the championship on May 30.

And even with the departures on the back line, Ritchie likes the talent. In addition to Klein, seniors Dixon Hammer and Ian Jose and freshman Connor Weaver all are expected to play significant minutes.

“Our back line is solid,” said Klein, adding that the group has played together on WestSound FC.

None of the goalkeepers have varsity experience, but Ritchie has players such as Quintin Harris working with assistant coach Dustyn Brim. Both Brim and fellow assistant Matt Friesen play for the Pumas and Ritchie said he is grateful that they are helping him mold the Wolves into his style.

“We’re going to play hard and fast,” he said. “Technically, I demand excellence.”

One concern could be offense. Ritchie played Klein up front at times early in the season.

“He’s a big, strong boy and he’s technically very skillful,” Ritchie said. “It’s a pity there’s not two of him.”

While South searches for some finishers — Ritchie noted the potential of freshman Kieran Prince — there should be creators in the midfield with the Seattle University-bound Cruz and his cousin, junior Diego Aceves-de la Cruz.

“They both like to create,” he said. “They have the confidence to go out there and do it.”

Ritchie, a 28-year-old native of Glasgow, Scotland, who played goalie at Missouri Valley College before injuries derailed his career, likes flamboyance, but said he will not accept complacency.

“The trophy is a bit of a target,” he said. “Everyone wants our scalp. The minute they think they’re entitled to anything, is the minute it’s going to go seriously wrong for them.”

Ritchie does not see that being an issue, though.

“We’ve got a fantastic bunch of boys here,” he said. “I’m really excited.”

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