The will to win was absent when Nick Butschli arrived as freshman three years ago on Blaine's boys' soccer team.
It wasn't so much the losing that troubled him, though. It was the unwillingness to fight - a clear lack of pride that came from the upperclassmen, Butschli remembered.
That was never more present than in a conference game against Squalicum his freshman year.
"The Squalicum game, it didn't seem like anyone even cared or thought there was no reason to play that game," Butschli said in a phone interview. "They were like, 'It's Squalicum. This game doesn't matter. Nothing is going to change.'"
The Storm handed the Borderites a 9-0 loss that night under the lights at Civic Stadium, serving as a perfect example of the 0-15-1 program Blaine was that season, being outscored 88-5 in the process.
Oh how far the Borderites have come, now awaiting their first ever state game when they face King's in the opening round of the Class 1A State Boys' Soccer Tournament at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 20, at Woolsey Stadium in Shoreline.
Blaine (8-9-4 overall, 2-7-3 NWC) did so in unlikely fashion, too, defeating a highly-touted South Whidbey team 2-1 to earn a fifth-place finish at tri-districts. The win came in shootout fashion after fellow senior Garren Economy tied the game at 1 goal apiece with a free kick in the 74th minute.
Blaine went on to hit its first four shots, Economy and Butschli nailing theirs, and after two incredible saves by keeper Tristan Hunter, the Borderites cemented a defining moment for a program that once dwelled at the bottom of the NWC.
"The entire lineup freezes for a second and waits. That's enough. We just hear the whistle. Everybody just went off. Everybody is just so excited," Butschli said of the emotion following the 2-1 shootout win over South Whidbey. "I can't replicate that feeling. Everybody is so hyped. All the emotions - all the worries people had of playing in the loser-out game Saturday, having to earn it again and again ended right there.
"We made it. At that point it didn't matter if we were the first seed or the second seed. We made it. We made it to state."
Economy, who unlike Butschli didn't play his first two years while at Blaine, saw a team that believed it could win. The Falcons were the higher seed and the hands-on favorite, but the two senior captains saw a level of toughness arise in their young team that hadn't necessarily been there in years past
"Everyone's telling each other we're going to make it," Economy said. "It's mostly just passion. We've never really had the most talented players or most skill. We work really hard no matter what."
There's a blue-collar mentality to Blaine, Economy said. Being one of the senior captains, he's tried to instill that into the culture there. His experience playing for the Seattle Sounders FC Youth Academy afforded him the opportunity of going against more physical, skilled players, and that's experience he's brought with him to Blaine.
And in the midfield, there's a tenacity needed - one he most certainly has.
"In the middle, we won't let people mess with us," he said. "If someone is trying to tackle you, you have to tell them you're the man."
The ruggedness Economy plays with counterbalances Butschli's more-finesse style up front. Butschli didn't arrive with the pedigree of some of the elite goal scorers in the NWC, but he's managed to lead all the Whatcom County players with 13 goals this season and 29 points overall.
He said his style isn't one that wows the crowd, but more so his intelligence and knowing when to be in the right spot.
"I haven't always been the strongest shooter," Butschli said. "I've tried to get to the point where I could pass enough defenders to make a goal. ... I've never been good on defense. I'm really easy to beat. Luck just kind of ended up that I was a forward."
First-year coach Giovanni Quesada has reaped the benefits of both his captain's presences, although King's presents a challenge unlike South Whidbey or Vashon Island before that.
The Knights are one of the top-scoring teams in the Cascade Conference, putting together 10 consecutive wins entering play Tuesday.
And unlike Blaine, King's has been a powerhouse scoring the ball, entering with 64 goals on the season in 20 games. The Borderites have just 34 to their credit, but the Knights barely escaped their last meeting with Blaine, and Economy envisions a similarly-physical contest this time.
"It's going to be a rough game," he said. "King's, they come from a Christian, private school. They come from privilege, and Blaine never really has. We're going to show them a little something different."
Reach Alex Bigelow at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-715-2238. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for other Whatcom County sports updates.