Usually, team leaders are upperclassmen, but for the Lynden Christian boys' soccer team that will play Chelan in a Class 1A State Tournament semifinal Friday, May 24, the leader of the defense is an unlikely source - sophomore Liam Kroontje.
Kroontje has the most varsity, and general playing, experience on the defensive side of the ball. And he doesn't shy away from being a leader.
"Liam is our mainstay," Lynden Christian coach Brent De Ruyter said in a phone interview. "He's our anchor in the back. The other three have had limited time in the back until this year. Them coming together through this season has been special."
De Ruyter said the two seniors, Hunter Weinert and Trevor Dalla Santa, and junior John Van Dalen, have embraced having Kroontje be the leader. He said there was some uncertainty from the other players at the beginning of the year since they didn't have much experience on the defensive side, but they have seen Kroontje work hard and trust he knows what he is doing.
"For them to mesh so quickly was special," De Ruyter said. "After about 10 matches they were showing signs of great stuff and have been stellar. Having seniors willing to listen is big too."
Kroontje said because of his year-round playing experience, he takes on the role of telling the other players where to be and what to do.
"We all trust each other and they respect me," Kroontje said in a phone interview. "We are just trying to play together for the good of the team. We don't care about seniority or experience, just playing as best as we can as a team."
Goalkeeper Brady Harvey has also seen the defense grow throughout the season.
He said the thing that has really caused them to click has been the communication.
"They all know it's a team thing," Harvey said in a phone interview. "They have taken a lot of pride in the shutouts and stopping other teams. They listen well and know the fundamentals. They've made it easy on me."
The defense has been instrumental in the team's postseason success. The Lyncs have posted five shutouts in their seven postseason games, two in the first two state tournament games, and outscored opponents 20-3.
But the team does have a challenge in its next game. Chelan won its first two games with scores of 6-0 and 4-3 and has scored at least three goals in each of its postseason games. Chelan also only lost three games during the season and two of those were shootouts.
De Rutyer said Chelan is a fast-paced team that has skilled players in the middle and scores goals in bunches.
Harvey said the Lyncs plan on using their physicality to dictate the game. They plan on forcing Chelan to chase the game and said if they can do that, they will wear them out.
"I know they are really excited to play a tough team and what looks like a really challenging offensive group," De Ruyter said. "They are focused and know they have to execute well."
Kroontje said he thought playing the rest of the NWC teams during the regular season causes the team's success in the postseason.
He said the fact they play some of the stronger 2A teams in the state has prepared them for playing the 1A teams.
"We have been practicing and preparing for their strong players," Kroontje said. "We are hoping that if we play well and take care of the threats we will get a result and move on to the finals."
Harvey said he would love to take a state championship away with him for his final year.
"This team is special and we are all hungry," Harvey said. "We are taking it one game at a time and it means a lot to us. It would be a great thing to take away."
CLASS 1A STATE SOCCER SEMIFINALS When: Friday, May 24 Site: Sunset Chev Stadium, Sumner - Seattle Christian vs. Okanogan, 2 p.m. - Lynden Christian vs. Chelan, 4 p.m. Final: 2 p.m. Saturday, May 25