There are few things Matt Herrera didn’t accomplish as a soccer player at North Thurston High School.
Four years on the varsity team resulted in four trips to the state playoffs for Herrera’s teams, including a semifinal appearance en route to a fourth-place finish as a sophomore in 2003. He was named Pac-9 League MVP as a junior before earning all-state honors as a senior.
Although North Thurston, which opened its doors in 1955, sports a long list of soccer greats, his legacy is secure because few Rams players can boast his résumé.
Herrera, now in his first season as coach of the Rams, hopes to enjoy similar success in charge of the program.
Herrera returns to his alma mater after leading Yelm for the past three seasons, guiding the Tornados to the state playoffs during the 2010 season.
“There really was only one place that could pull me away from Yelm,” Herrera said. “That was North Thurston.”
It is the dream coaching position for Herrera, who is also a deputy with the Mason County Sheriff’s Office, and one he learned would be open when former Rams coach Chris Knudson gave him a call last summer.
“Chris told me he was going to step down,” said Herrera, who played soccer at The Evergreen State College, “and said he was going to recommend me for the position. Chris did such an incredible job building the program. I was really excited about returning there.”
Two years ago the Rams advanced to the Class 2A state quarterfinals, marking the first time North Thurston had reached the state tournament since Herrera’s senior season of 2005.
Last season the Rams advanced to the district tournament, knocking off 2A Greater Saint Helens League champion and top-seeded Hockinson before bowing out just shy of making it to state for a second consecutive year.
Graduated from last year’s squad are first-team all-league selections Joey Renaud and Miguel Soto-Torres.
But Knudson did not leave the cupboard bare for Herrera. North Thurston returns first-team All-Evergreen League 2A midfielder Kenny Heo and second-teamer David Cregg.
“(Kenny and David) are definitely our leaders on and off the field,” Herrera said. “The whole team is very competitive.”
After two years in the EvCo, North Thurston returns to the 3A Narrows League – a league familiar to Herrera during his tenure in Yelm with the Tornados.
“I think that helps us a great deal,” Herrera said. “These are programs I’ve coached against the last three years. There are some very good teams in this league. Shelton will be tough this year and Wilson is always a good team. I think we are in the mix though. I think we definitely have a chance to be league champions.”
A run to the playoffs this season would duplicate what Herrera achieved during his inaugural year at Yelm, when he led the Tornados to just their second state playoff appearance in school history.
“This is a great group to coach,” Herrera said about this year’s Rams. “It’s a group of guys that really enjoy being around each other and playing together. I think chemistry is huge when you’re talking about high school soccer.”
After opening the season with a 1-0 non-league loss to Bellarmine Prep, last year’s third-place finisher at the 4A state tournament, North Thurston opened league play by defeating Timberline, Shelton and Yelm before falling to Wilson, 7-1, last Friday.
“It just felt like the right situation for me to be back at North Thurston,” Herrera said. “I really appreciate my time at Yelm and felt it was a great experience. Now I am looking forward to seeing what we can do here.”
HIGH SCHOOL SOCCER PREVIEW
THREE STORYLINES TO FOLLOW
Can Tumwater make another state run?
Last spring’s fourth-place finish at the 2A state tournament was Tumwater’s best finish in program history. Connor Sigmon, who racked up a school-record 10 playoff goals during the T-Birds’ run, is one of four returning starters, joining Jacob Irwin, Kile Lenherr and Ethan Williams. The run to a second consecutive 2A Evergreen Conference crown will likely go through Aberdeen, which returns league MVP Juanito Lopez.
New coach, new league … new result?
With Capital moving down to Class 2A and North Thurston bumping up to the 3A Narrows League, expect the Rams to battle the Rams from Wilson for the league crown. North Thurston outscored its first four opponents, 13-3, while winning three of the games. Senior midfielder Kenny Heo already has four goals. An interesting ide note: Both coaches at the Lacey schools – North Thurston (Matt Herrera) and Timberline (Mark Tate) – were Yelm’s previous two head coaches.
Wide-open 4A Narrows
It’s no secret the 4A Narrows remains one of the toughest leagues in the state. Since 2008, four Narrows teams have played in the 4A state title game. But there’s no clear-cut favorite this season. Olympia coach Ty Johnson said his Bears have the most individual talent in his six seasons, even though two key players didn’t turn out because they are playing club-level soccer. One of its strengths is the backline, illustrated by the Bears’ three shutouts.
11 PLAYERS TO WATCH
D Jason Geissinger, jr., Timberline
D Jacob Wright, sr., Olympia
D Luke Proctor, sr., Black Hills
MF Bryce Winkler, jr., Olympia
MF Kenny Heo, sr., North Thurston
MF David Cregg, sr., North Thurston
MF Prince Gundersen, sr., Centralia
MF Kellen O’Neill, jr., Capital
F Chris Behnke, so., River Ridge
F Connor Sigmon, sr., Tumwater
F Angel Vazquez, jr., Rochestermwochnick@theolympian.com