When the Sunlake High School boys soccer team defeated the Pasco Pirates 3-2 on Jan. 9, they probably weren’t surprised they won the game. The victory meant the team completed district play for the season with a perfect 16-0 record.
If anything, they might have wondered how they gave up two goals. Adding those two, the team gave up just four goals in 16 district games for Class 3A-District 8.
On the other side of the ledger, the Seahawks scored 101 goals in those same contests. They registered 13 shutouts, including six by the score of 8-0.
While they’ve dominated their district, they’re almost as good in overall play. They’ve collected a 23-1-1 record with 138 goals scored. But amazingly, that record is actually a slight drop-off from last year, when they won 30 straight games before losing in the Class 3A state semifinals to Ponte Vedra 2-1.
By the numbers, it might look like the Seahawks are an offense-first team. But according to Coach Sam Koleduk, that’s not really the case.
“We’re more of a complete team, I think,” he said. “Right now we’re the leading scoring team in the country, and we’ve also given up the least amount of goals, also.”
There are a few factors that go into building the kind of success they’re having at Sunlake, Koleduk said. The team has a lot of players who also participate in local clubs, so they’re not just thinking about soccer for their school schedule. That extra work allows them to stay on top of their game so they’re ready to play at practice and during games.
Their junior varsity program also is strong — the team was undefeated this past season. Koleduk said it allows him to replace skilled players who graduate with talented, experienced athletes who are ready to play at the varsity level.
Finally, having a good team allows them to adjust their style of play to put more pressure on their opponent. Instead of a more traditional 4-4-2 formation — with four players in the back, four in the middle and two attacking up front — Sunlake often plays a 3-4-3 formation, putting an extra attacker up front and forcing an opponent into a more defensive posture from the start.
But that type of attack also means fewer players on defense if the opponent breaks through, so the goalkeeper has to be ready to make the necessary saves. Fortunately for the Seahawks, sophomore Danny Hrenko has been up to the task. Picking up where he left off as a freshman, Hrenko is frustrating opponents on the rare occasions they create a scoring opportunity.
He said that while he’s the man in front of the net, his teammates are the ones who deserve credit for shutting down opponents.
“The key is really my defense, to be honest,” Hrenko said. “It’s all about organizing them.”
Even when there are fewer players in the back, the team’s style doesn’t put him in difficult situations, and the defenders are able to neutralize the opponent most of the time.
But when the team has had relatively close games, Hrenko has usually helped them come out of them with a win. He said he enjoys making tough saves and proving the team is as tough defensively as it is prolific on offense.
“I like when I have a good shot against me and I make a good save. It makes me feel like I’ve done my part on this team,” he said.
With many players doing their part — sophomore Remi Pimm leads the nation in scoring — getting a step farther than last year seems like a reasonable goal. And while Koleduk — who has been with the team since the school opened back in 2007 — acknowledges his Seahawks are a talented team with a lot of promise, he said there are more variables that go into a trip to the state finals and a potential championship.
And not all of them are in the team’s control.
“We’ve got to stay focused, and it sounds funny, but a little bit of luck,” he said. “To make it all the way through without losing, you have to have a little luck on your side also, I think.
“Basically, you have to stay focused and healthy.”