Mercer Island boys soccer ready to make final push to state

Mercer Island’s 2A/3A All Conference players: Derek Sims, Sean Bender, Nate Schuler, Ryan Hill and Daniel Espeleta. - Maria Sims/Contributed photo
Mercer Island’s 2A/3A All Conference players: Derek Sims, Sean Bender, Nate Schuler, Ryan Hill and Daniel Espeleta.
— image credit: Maria Sims/Contributed photo

After losing at home to Bellevue in its league finale, the Mercer Island boys soccer team knew something had to change if they wanted to stick around in the postseason.

It started May 10 with a come-from-behind victory at Mount Si that saw three goals from captain Ryan Hill. Then behind another three goals from Hill, Mercer Island topped Liberty 4-2 in the 3A KingCo tournament title game at Liberty High School Tuesday, May 13, earning a trip to the 3A state tournament as District 2’s number one seed in the state bracket.

“I know it’s strange to say, but losing to Bellevue gave everyone a sense of reality, and they came into that first game of KingCo play running on full throttle,” said coach Colin Rigby. “The Bellevue loss was definitely like a slap in the face saying, ‘hey, you guys wanna go farther in the season, you’re going to need to start picking up your game,’ and the Bellevue game pushed us to do that.”

Kicking off its postseason on the road, Mercer Island refused to let Mount Si get away, with Hill responding to each Wildcat score, finding the back of the net with the go-ahead strike in the 48th minute. The Islanders carried its momentum to its second-round matchup against Liberty, taking a 2-0 first-half lead with goals from Hill and Daniel Espeleta. Two more goals from Hill in the 51st and 71st minutes gave the Islanders a commanding 4-1 lead, as well as Hill’s second straight hat trick.

Rigby said six goals in two games from his striker was an incredible feat by Hill, but also a testament to the Islanders’ play as a team.

“When goals come from one player like that, it’s because the team is moving the ball the right way and finding players who put it away,” said Rigby. “With Sean Bender and Daniel Sims on the outside, it’s devastating for other teams because they have so much speed and talent. To have those guys on the outside and Ryan Hill up top, it’s a good combination.”

Back-to-back hat tricks was a new feat for Hill, who’s playing on a broken left pinkie toe. With his second hat trick, Hill scored his 16th goal of the season, surpassing last season’s tally of 13.

Coming from a striker position that lives and dies on such stretches, both the coach and the player hope to harness Hill’s current streak going forward.

“For me, it’s about reminding myself that I have the potential to be that kind of player,” said Hill. “Not playing timidly or holding back, staying confident but humble, having respect for the opponent because they’re there for a reason, too. I don’t need to get the job done all by myself. The only way I’m going to be successful is if the team is successful.”

To continue the team’s success, Hill said the Islanders can’t get too far ahead of themselves and must remember the little things that got them to this point. On a team that appears to be hitting its stride, Hill believes good things will happen if the Islanders can maintain that focus.

“If we continue to do what we’ve been doing, it’ll continue to work,” said Hill. “I don’t think there’s a lot of teams that are as unified as we are right now. We definitely have a good sense of unity within the team.”

Mercer Island hosts Mountain View at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 20 at Mercer Island High School.

All Conference Islanders

Mercer Island had five members of the boys soccer team named to the 2A/3A All Conference soccer team. Sean Bender, Nate Schuler and Ryan Hill were named to the first team, while Derek Sims and Daniel Espeleta earned second team honors. Daniel Sims, Scott Montague, Matt Hansen and Sean Nevin all earned honorable mention.


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