When Eric Bergeson walked onto Retsil Field for his first boys soccer practice a decade ago, he had a vision.
He noted baseball coach Elton Goodwin, who won three state championships at South Kitsap High School before retiring in 2003, as someone who produced outstanding results on the field.
Of equal importance, Goodwin’s students were excellent in the classroom.
Unlike baseball or football, which advanced to state every year from 1980-2002 under Ed Fisher and D.J. Sigurdson — two other coaches he admired — the South Kitsap boys soccer program hadn’t advanced to state during the 1990s when he took over.
The Wolves’ only state appearances, in 1985 and 1987, were first-round losses.
After 10 seasons at South, Bergeson’s soccer team has joined the conversation when it comes to the school’s top athletic programs. The Wolves have advanced to state five times during his tenure, and were the championship runner-up two years ago.
Reaching state isn’t a program-defining moment anymore — it’s a benchmark. So after the Wolves fell to 7-4-5 overall and 5-1-4 for third place in the Narrows League last season — without a state berth — many players feel they need to prove themselves.
“Last year we came up a little short,” said senior co-captain Jordan Thomas, who lines up as a center midfielder. “I’m really eager to get out there and see how far we can go.”
That begins when the Wolves open their season at 11 a.m. today with a non-league match at Peninsula. With only four seniors gone from last season’s squad, Bergeson reminded his team that no one had earned a starting position less than a week before the opener.
“There’s nobody holding back at all,” Thomas said. “The whole team just works together well and keeps each other going.”
Despite seven sophomores and a freshman on the roster last year, the Wolves were just a win away from state.
“Our standards are high,” Bergeson said. “We still have a bad taste in our mouths from failing to make it to state and we will every year we don’t get there.”
He said that doesn’t mean the Wolves are complacent or entitled. After all, South must contend with some of the state’s stronger teams in the Narrows League.
Bellarmine Prep has advanced to state four consecutive years and won the championship in 2004. Stadium and Gig Harbor have been to state four and five times, respectively, since 2001.
And while the Wolves didn’t graduate many in numbers, one of their losses arguably was their best player, defender Alex May, who now plays at Pacific Lutheran University.
He was South’s lone first-team, all-league selection.
But the Wolves feature a pair of seniors who return at the position, Bryan Heath and Ryan Myskens, who was an honorable mention Narrows League selection.
Juniors Jesse Askew, Daniel Lathrop and Jason Skolnik also are defenders and classmate Brent Ricigliano is the goalkeeper.
“It definitely keeps you working,” said junior co-captain Justin Moore, a forward. “It’s one of the better defenses in the league. You’re going against the best of the best.”
South produced more than two goals in a match only four times last season, but that statistic might improve with more experience up front.
“We’ve got a strong junior class up top with co-captain Justin Moore and Brandon Sigliano, so I think we can put some goals away,” Thomas said.
All around, Bergeson seems happy with the progress of the team and credits the players and their club coaches for having them “united on teams in the offseason.” He said the experience from last season and club play has his players ahead of where he had expected.
“That means there’s fewer lessons to teach regarding both behavior and play,” he said. “The work ethic’s built in. The guys want to get back to state.”
Today at Peninsula 11 a.m.
March 10 at Bremerton 6:45 p.m.
March 12 at Olympic 3:30 p.m.
March 14 at Wilson 7:15 p.m.
March 18 Foss 5 p.m.
March 20 at Gig Harbor 5 p.m.
March 25 Olympia 5 p.m.
March 27 at Lincoln 7 p.m.
April 8 at Stadium 7:15 p.m.
April 10 Central Kitsap 5 p.m.
April 17 North Kitsap 5 p.m.
April 22 at Mount Tahoma 6:30 p.m.
April 24 Bellarmine Prep 7 p.m.