Kenny Heo has been a staple in the midfield for North Thurston High School’s boys soccer team since his freshman year. But he’s also a team-first player, which is why he willingly changed positions this spring.
The Rams were struggling, having been outscored, 10-8, during a midseason funk in which they went 2-2-1. The solution was to move Heo to the team’s only
striker position as first-year coach Matt Herrera decided a 4-5-1 formation was worth a try.
Heo was up for it, and he excelled. The Olympian’s all-area boys soccer player of the year scored 14 goals in his senior season and dished out seven assists in a role split between midfield, his home position, and forward.
“I feel like I’ve always had that goal-killer instinct,” Heo said. “I’ve always been hungry to score. It’s an easy transition for me.”
Heo played the final four regular-season games up front as the Rams’ main striker. With the new formation and tactics installed just before the team’s second go-round with eventual 3A Narrows League champion Wilson, North Thurston won three of its final four regular-
season games, outscoring its opponents, 12-4, including a 4-1 win over Wilson in Tacoma.
“Kenny is skilled enough, athletic enough, fast enough and strong enough to be put up there by himself and make things happen,” Herrera said.
Heo said North Thurston was a “completely different team” the final two weeks of the season.
“It worked out well,” said Heo, who had five goals – including a hat trick in a 3-0 win over Lincoln on May 2 – and two assists in the final four games.
“Putting me at forward made us stronger. I like how my team had confidence in me having the ball isolated on the left side.”
The Rams finished 8-6-1 and advanced to the 3A West Central/Southwest bidistrict tournament, finishing one game short of their first state berth since 2011.
Herrera, who played at North Thurston in the mid-2000s, said Heo has many strengths that make him a good offensive player. He’s strong on the one-on-one attack, often beating his defender with his first four to five steps off the dribble.
“Ninety percent of the time, he beats the defender one-on-one,” Herrera said. “He’s definitely a strong attacking player. He’s not weak in any aspect of the game.”
As for playing soccer in college, Heo isn’t shutting the door on that just yet. He’ll attend Western Washington University starting this fall, and he has thought about walking on to the Vikings team.
Herrera said Heo has the talent to be an NCAA Division II player.
“He has all the physical attributes to go as far as he wants,” Herrera said.Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 email@example.com theolympian.com/southsoundsports @MegWochnick
The Olympian’s all-area boys soccer team
Player of the year: Kenny Heo, MF/F, sr., North Thurston
Coach of the year: Isaiah Herrera, Shelton
GK Davin Johnson, soph., Olympia
First year as the Bears’ keeper resulted in five shutouts, including two to open the season, a second-team all-4A Narrows selection.
D Daniel Pailthrope, jr., Capital
D Alan Pavoc, sr., North Thurston
French exchange student had no trouble adjusting to the Rams’ last line of defense, and had a high soccer IQ, coach Matt Herrera said.
D Alec Carey, sr., Centralia
Last line of the Tigers’ defense often pushed the offense forward. Tallied three assists.
MF Prince Gundersen, sr., Centralia
Repeat all-area pick organized the midfield, according to coach Sue Parke, and had a team-high 19 goals and five assists.
MF Alex Nunez, sr., Shelton
Catalyst for Highclimbers’ midfield, leading team to bi-district tournament game.
MF David Cregg, sr., North Thurston
Three-time all-league pick anchored the Rams’ offense and also lended a foot in offensive support with five goals.
MF Nick Boatright, jr., Capital
Capital coach Kyle Jones labeled Boatright as a coach on the field, who racked up four goals and a team-high five assists for Cougars.
F Connor Sigmon, sr., Tumwater
Few had the goal-scoring finesse like Sigmon, a three-time all-league honoree.
F Chris Behnke, soph., River Ridge
Split time between forward and goalkeeper. Not a big guy (5-7) but made plenty of big-time saves and goals to help the Hawks make a late-season push into the playoffs.
F Fernando Agular, sr., Rochester
1A SWW Evergreen co-MVP (36 goals, five assists) led the Warriors to the league title and its third consecutive Class 1A state berth.