This season seemed as good as over two weeks ago.
The Olympia High School boys soccer team played a must-win game against Puyallup — the Class 4A South Puget Sound League’s top team, and eventual titleist— to close the regular season, but didn’t get one.
Olympia nursed a one-goal lead until the game’s final seconds, but the Vikings managed to score the equalizer.
That was it, the season was over.
“Giving up that goal at the very end was devastating,” senior Kolby Johnson said. “Especially as a senior, you don’t think it’s over.
“Then that whistle blows and you take off the jersey and it’s all gone. You’ve been here for four years and now you’re done.”
Or so the Bears thought. They learned the next day about a tiebreaker that could keep their season alive.
Olympia was in seventh, but if Sumner beat Emerald Ridge later in the week, it would force a tie for sixth — the final berth into the 4A West Central/Southwest bidistrict tournament — and a playoff game.
So, Olympia, sitting at a 4-10-2 record, waited to see if its season would continue.
“I was crossing my fingers,” senior Matteo Delguidice said.
Sumner shut out the Jaguars, 3-0. The Bears played Emerald Ridge the following day and posted a 7-0 shutout, sewing up the final district tournament berth.
“We found something within us, and we just pushed,” Delguidice said. “A new fire was lit, and we made it.”
The Bears are undefeated since.
They shut out Auburn and Kentwood, and beat top-seeded Camas in a shootout Saturday to win the district title.
“I think we’re a very dangerous team right now, because they believe no one can beat them,” Olympia coach Ty Johnson said. “They got a second lease on the season.”
Now, after being on the brink of elimination, Olympia (7-10-2) hosts Kamiak (13-5-2) at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Ingersoll Stadium in the first round of the 4A state playoffs.
“To have the opportunity to host in the first round of state, and potentially the quarterfinals of state, is unbelievable considering where we were three weeks ago,” Ty Johnson said.
This will be Olympia’s 15th trip to the state playoffs in its program history. The Bears have advanced to the quarterfinals eight times, but never further.
Ty Johnson said this is the first time he’s experienced such a turnaround since he started coaching at Olympia in 2008, but he’s not shocked this group did it.
“Based on the effort, and the quality of the boys on this team, it’s not surprising that we’ve overcome the adversity we’ve faced this season, and are sitting where we’re at now,” Ty Johnson said.
Playoff chances started to look bleak late in the regular season. So much so, that Ty Johnson started looking at how many wins it would take to make it to districts.
But the wins just weren’t coming. The Bears went on a seven-game losing streak in April. During that period, Olympia lost starters to injuries, school activities and one red card suspension.
“When that streak started to come on, we didn’t really know what was happening,” Kolby Johnson said. “We were still playing really well, we just weren’t getting the results we wanted.”
The Bears would regroup after each game and try to make adjustments in practice, but the wins still weren’t coming. They called a team meeting.
“After that meeting, we realized we have nothing to lose, so we might as well give everything we have,” Kolby Johnson said.
That mentality, as well as returning players and revisiting the team’s main driver this season — dedicating every game to former assistant coach Austin Kelley — has propelled Olympia to this point.
“It’s a really good feeling to show a lot of improvement,” said Delguidice, who has posted five shutouts this season as Olympia’s goalkeeper.
“I didn’t think we would ever be here. … It’s just exhilarating to see all of these guys out here be willing to win for each other.”
And for Kelley.
Delguidice tells his teammates before every game: you know who we’re playing for.
“I’ve said it before every game postseason, and I guess it’s in their head now,” Delguidice said. “They know. He probably knows, too. He’s probably here watching.”
Kelley, who died in a swimming accident last summer in Idaho, has continued to be the program’s inspiration throughout the playoffs.
Kolby Johnson said there have been rainbows over the field each game Olympia has played in the postseason, reminding the team of the light Kelley brought.
“It’s been super helpful to have those things that remind us of him while we’re still playing, and what we’re out here to do,” Kolby Johnson said.