BACK IN THE BEST AT HIS

SPSL 3A

  • Wednesday, March 26, 2008 9:00am
  • Sports

Auburn Riverside senior Jermaine Haller

SPSL 3A

BOYS SOCCER: AT A GLANCE

FAVORITE – Auburn Riverside.

CONTENDERS – Bonney Lake, Sumner.

WATCH OUT FOR – Auburn, Auburn Mountainview, Enumclaw.

OUTLOOK – Auburn RIverside is out to claim the title that got away on the final night of the season last year. The Ravens did graduate leading scorer Cam Vickers (13 goals, 8 assists) and lost Ricky Morales (10 goals, 6 assists), who elected to stay with his club team. But they do return Oscar Diaz (10 goals, 4 assists), Matt Zeman (2 goals, 3 assists) and Shane Gutierrez (four assists). And the team is loaded with experience. “This is the first time in six years of coaching that I’ve started all juniors and seniors,” coach Robyn Saarenas said. “All the other kids are sophomores who are potentially very good. On some other teams, they would start.” That being said, Saarenas and the Ravens don’t expect to go cruising to the crown. Sumner returns most of its offensive production from a year ago, including 10-goal scorer Nick Sims. Bonney Lake is mentioned by most coaches as a team that definitely will be in the mix. Defending champion Franklin Pierce got hit hard by graduation, losing Chris Laise (14 goals), Michael Bailey (8) and Stephen Stabbert (5). Auburn and Auburn Mountainview, though not considered title contenders, figure to be in the playoff mix.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Sr. Mike Crelling Franklin Pierce GK

Notable: Posted a league-leading 11 shutouts last season.

Jr. Tyler Decker Auburn Mtnv. MF

Notable: Was the Lions’ leading scorer with four goals last season, already has a pair this spring.

Jr. Oscar Diaz Auburn Riverside F

Notable: Factored into 14 of the Ravens’ 49 goals last year, scoring 10 and setting up four others.

Sr. Jermaine Haller Auburn Riverside D

Notable: A solid anchor on the back line, has signed with Gonzaga.

Jr. Jarred Larson Auburn GK

Notable: Three shutouts in ’07, has fought through multiple injuries to return as solid man between the pipes.

Sr. Nick Sims Sumner F

Notable: The primary go-to man for the Spartans, notched 10 goals and three assists last spring.

CIRCLE THE CALENDAR

Auburn Riverside at Bonney Lake, March 28 (rematch April 22 at AR): Ravens can establish themselves the clear favorite, or Panthers can show that they’re serious about contending for the crown.

Auburn at Auburn Mountainview, March 31 (rematch April 25 at Auburn): It figures to be a scramble for the last couple playoff spots. Good opportunity for one of these teams to get an edge.

Auburn Mountainview at Sumner, April 2 (rematch April 29 at AMV): How real are those playoff hopes for Mountainview? This is a good chance to find out.

Auburn Riverside at Auburn, April 2 (rematch April 29 at AR): Rivalry match. And a good test for the Trojans, who want to make a run at a playoff spot.

Enumclaw at Auburn Mountainview April 7 (rematch May 1 at Enumclaw): Two teams expected to be battling for a playoff spot all season.

Sumner at Auburn Riverside, April 7 (rematch May 1 at Sumner): Just like AR-Bonney Lake, the favorite vs. a contender.

Haller isn’t a physically imposing presence in the back. In fact, at about 5-foot-9 and 155 pounds, he’s not shy about saying, “I need to put some muscle on.”

But just as he’s quick with his feet, he’s quick with his brain, too. (He has a 3.2 grade-point average with a class load that includes AP chemistry and physics.) And Saarenas says that mental sharpness is a big reason he’s bound for Gonzaga.

“That’s the difference between being a high school kid and one who can play at college: It’s the kid who can read the play and anticipate,” Saarenas said. “And that can only come from understanding it.”

Haller – who says he might have used that footspeed on the track in the 100 and 200 meters if he wasn’t playing soccer, also has become more comfortable as the guy offering direction to his fellow in-the-trenchers on the back line.

“Individually, it’s about positioning. But as a team, it’s being vocal with each other,” Haller said. “It didn’t come easy to me. But as I’ve grown as a player and gotten older, I’ve stepped into a leadership role and kind of run the defense.”

Before turnouts started in late February, Haller had to decide between high school soccer or sticking with his club. Crossfire, in a move that has become quite controversial, insisted its players not compete for their high school teams, although turning out for other spring sports would have been OK.

Haller chose the Ravens.

“It was (hard), definitely,” he acknowledged. “On the one hand, it was really good to play against guys like that (with Crossfire).

“At the same time, I wanted to come back and finish my fourth year with the high school team.”

And Haller gets to finish it where he’s at his best.

Back in the back.

He showed up with talent. Good work ethic. The right attitude.

For then-freshman Jermaine Haller, that meant varsity soccer playing time. Up front – where the goals are scored. And in his first game for the Auburn Riverside boys, Haller scored one.

Dream come true, right?

Not quite. Because the place Haller really wanted to play was in the back.

Just one problem: There was no room.

At least not right away.

“We were really solid on defense his freshman year. And I was thinking, ‘Do I really want to change my defense for a freshman?’” Ravens coach Robyn Saarenas recalled. “So we thought, ‘Here’s a kid who has some speed and has some hops. Let’s put him in front of the net and see what happens.’”

What happened was a couple of goals, including that tally in the opener.

But by midseason, Haller was back in the back.

“And that was that,” Saarenas said. “We always knew he was the kid who was going to take over in the back.

He has been there ever since, earning his status as one of the stalwart defenders in South Puget Sound League 3A.

“It kind of came natural, but as the years have gone on, I’ve learned a lot about defending,” said Haller, who’ll continue to practice his craft next year at the NCAA Division 1 level with Gonzaga. “It’s more (a matter of) intelligence. Speed is important, but it’s more intelligence and being able to position on the field.”

But Haller is just as concerned about position in the standings.

Last year, it came down to the final night of the season, and the Ravens fell one point short of Franklin Pierce for the league title. Then in the first round of the state playoffs, Newport came from behind late to eliminate Riverside, 3-2.

“I feel like we have a good opportunity to go pretty far – we should have last year,” Haller said. “It was just unfortunate that we didn’t. We have the potential to do it.”

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