Soccer bounced at state tourney

Wil Nelp stood on the Renton Stadium soccer field and took off his jersey in disgust. He was frustrated, exhausted and emotional following the Islanders’ 3-0 season-ending loss to Hazen on May 15. The senior soccer player knew when he stepped to the sidelines his high school career was over.

“This is the best thing I have done in high school,” said Nelp, fighting back the tears. “All the friends I have made, all the experiences have been nothing but positive.”

For four years, Nelp played varsity soccer for the Islanders on a side of the ball that doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. But the senior lead the defense through triumph and heartbreak, two 3A KingCo titles and three consecutive trips to the state tournament, including a third-place finish last season and 3A KingCo titles in 2005 and 2006. Four different goalkeepers have played behind Nelp, all receiving the praise for a defensive effort that the senior helped build and maintain through an ever-changing roster.

“He was the heart and backbone of this team,” said Mercer Island coach Steve Newman. “He has been with me a long time. This game was for him, I just wish it could have ended a little different.”

The loss was as decisive as the final score for Nelp and the Islanders. Hazen got on the board first with a controversial penalty kick from 10 yards out during the 20th minute. Mercer Island goalkeeper sophomore Forrest Marowitz had no chance to stop the shot as it went right and he dove left.

“That penalty kick hurt us,” said Newman. “It is a little frustrating.”

The Hazen defense shut the Islanders down.

Following their second goal of the game, Hazen held a 9 to 2 advantage in shots-on-goal.

“We didn’t play our best,” said Newman. “This is a kick-and-run style, and that is not what we play.”

Mercer Island was at a disadvantage from the start of the game. The Astroturf field and exceedingly bouncy soccer ball gave the Islanders fits during the entire game as passing and teamwork gave way to over-powered kicks.

Loud chants of “Highlanders” let the Islanders know they were in enemy territory.

The Islanders made a charge during the second half, out-shooting Hazen 7 to 5, but the majority of the shots were too hard, too light or disrupted.

The Islanders finished the season with a three-game win streak to get to the first round of state.

“We knew that if we lost, we were out,” Nelp said about the team’s motivation. “We had a young team and they played hard. This is a great program and they have a lot to look forward to.”

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