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Arper's patience pays off — big time
He was little more than an afterthought.
As forwards Justin Moore and Brent Ricigliano help guide South Kitsap’s boys soccer team to its first state championship in school history last year, Austin Arper watched from the sidelines.
Now a senior, Arper said he always remained confident in his abilities despite not seeing any varsity action before this season.
He occasionally wondered how his role might be different at another school, but Arper said he never seriously considered transferring.
Instead, he chose to wait.
“I had that thought last year, but then I just kept looking forward to my senior year,” he said. “I knew I would have my time eventually.”
Arper perhaps is the quintessential example of the Wolves’ talent-laden program that seems to find skilled new personnel each season. After scoring two goals Wednesday in their first-round playoff win against Wilson, Arper now has a Kitsap County-high 19 this year.
“It’s a little fairytale story, isn’t it?” Ritchie said. “He’s a late bloomer ... but he’s done so well. He’s an inspiration to all the boys.”
Arper credits the talent around him, including midfielders Nico de la Cruz and Diego de la Cruz-Aceves, for much of his success.
“That is the main reason why I have so many goals,” Arper said. “It’s way easier to score when you’ve got passes coming in from great players all around you.”
He said that developing chemistry with his frontline counterparts has not been difficult even though they have varying amounts of varsity experience. Arper, who praised the guidance of last year’s junior-varsity coach Andy Stromberg, said soccer players receive quality coaching at the high school and during club season. He began playing with WestSound FC when he was six years old.
Arper said club is important for players, such as himself, who do not play on varsity immediately because it allows them to develop a rapport with those players. Without that experience, he said his on-field chemistry with his teammates might not be as strong.
From an individual standpoint, Arper said he likes to use his 6-foot-2 frame to play physically against his opponents “and get them frustrated.” He said that also allows him to frequently to win passes off crosses.
The result mostly has been successful as the Wolves finished tied for third place in the Narrows League with Bellarmine Prep at 7-2-1. Stadium won the Narrows at 10-0-0; Gig Harbor was second at 7-1-2.
South lost its regular-season finale last week, 1-0, at Stadium and also missed its first opportunity to beat the Lions since 1987. The Wolves led most of that match until Bellarmine scored goals in the 68th, 70th and 72nd minutes April 26 en route to a come-from-behind 5-4 win.
“I don’t know what happened to us,” said Arper, referring to the loss against the Lions. “We just weren’t focused and didn’t play the full game.”
The results of those matches are a couple of the few disappointments South has experienced this year. Until their setback against Bellarmine, the Wolves had an opportunity for a league championship.
“We feel like we should’ve finished higher than that,” Arper said. “It was just little mistakes here and there. But now we’ve got the playoffs and these are the games that really matter.”
Regardless of how it turns out, Arper already has a plan for his future. He maintains a 3.79 grade-point average and hopes to walk onto the soccer team at the University of Washington. If he is not admitted, Arper plans to attend Western Washington University.
Ritchie, who also coaches Olympic College’s men’s soccer team, believes Arper has the ability to play collegiately.
“He’s fast and he can defend the goal,” he said. “He’s got all the physical attributes. What else would you want in your right striker?”
Arper said he is thankful for the guidance he has received from his older brother, Spencer Lucas, whom he said is an inspiration to him. Lucas is an attorney in California, and Arper also hopes to become a lawyer or a sports agent.
“He’s a real success story and he’s been there along with everything for me,” said Arper, adding that he has taken business law at South. “If I ever have to turn to someone, it is him.”
For now, Arper will enjoy the final few weeks of his time with the Wolves.
“It’s so much fun to be out there playing,” he said. “It’s been the most fun I’ve had playing.”