Blaine and Squalicum are the final two boys’ soccer teams alive in the state tournament from Whatcom County, although that’s about all they have in common.
The Borderites are the consonant underdog, facing King’s at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 20, at King’s High School, while the Storm are one of the early favorites to take the 2A crown. Squalicum opens up its state tournament against Sumner at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, May 21, at Civic Stadium.
Here’s a look at the three most important players from each squad entering their respective state runs.
Blaine (8-9-4 overall, Northwest Conference 2-7-3)
1. Nick Butschli (Sr., forward): This should come as no surprise, as Butschli’s ability to score quite possibly will decide this game. King’s enters play one of the best defensive teams in the 1A classification, and Butschli’s team-high 13 goals is going to make him a target. He’s not the fastest, flashiest attacking forward in the world, but he always seems to be in the right place at the right time. If the Borderites are going to have any chance to advance, it might hinge on his ability to score.2. Garren Economy (Sr., midfielder): Economy sets the tone physically for this team. He’s hard-nosed and as tough as any player in the NWC, so how he handles the Knights’ attack will be huge. Three seniors will be starting in the midfield for the Borderites, so don’t expect any of them to be intimidated by a King’s squad that scored 64 goals this year. And keep this in mind: each minute this game remains scoreless, it will start to favor the underdog Blaine team.3. Zach Oakley (So., forward): Oakley lacks the polish of someone like Butschli, but he’s lightning quick, and long balls that are played out of Blaine’s third of the field give him a chance to show his speed in the open. If he gets a run on a ball such as that, he could break free and get some good looks on the Knights’ keeper in one-on-one situations.
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Squalicum (17-0-2 overall, NWC 12-0-0)
1. B.J. Flood (Sr., midfielder/forward): Flood has just three goals on the season, but he’s a dynamic player for coach Joe McAuliffe in more than one way. Squalicum prides itself on a defense-first mentality, and a lot of that philosophy is dependent on midfielders tracking back and stopping the opposing team’s attack before it ever begins. Enter the 5-foot-4 Flood, who makes it back better than anyone in the NWC. He rarely loses possession of the ball, but when he does, he often times gets it back because he’s so quick and unrelenting. Hans Kogan, B.J. James and Spencer Wallace are a huge backline, but it’s the help Flood gives from the midfield that has helped keep teams scoreless for almost 1,000 consecutive minutes.2. Christian Chala (Sr., forward): Chala is probably the most difficult assignment Squalicum poses. He’s big, strong and skilled with the ball, but he’s only scored once in the Storm’s last six games. Squalicum’s offense doesn’t funnel through just one player since several guys, such as Gabe Guidroz (nine goals), Arne Peterson (six), David Abbott-Smith (four) and Quinn Carpenter (five) all can score, but its Chala who is the most difficult to account for. If the Storm are going to make a long run in state, they’re going to need Chala to score.3. B.J. James (Jr., defender): James is a stud. Simple as that. He is poised, strong and almost unbeatable on Squalicum’s backline, pairing with Kogan and Wallace really well. He doesn't warrant the attention Kogan does as the centerback, but everything he does seems to be the right play or the right move. Plus, he moves up on offense really well, too, showing the ability to possess the ball through traffic and start a Storm attack.