Neil Boyal simply makes everyone around him better.
That assessment was echoed by several opposing coaches when they were asked to list the Olympia High junior’s greatest trait as a soccer player.
Boyal, The Olympian’s All-Area boys soccer player of the year, led the charge in helping the Bears return to the Class 4A state playoffs for the first time since 2008, scoring goals and handing out assists from his midfielder position while doing all the little things required from a leadership role.
“He’s our quarterback on this team,” said Olympia coach Ty Johnson, who was so impressed with what Boyal brought to the program off the field that he made him a team captain midway through the season despite lacking senior status.
“His skill level is so high,” Johnson said, “that it looks like the ball sticks to his foot when he’s driving through defenders. It’s amazing what he can do. Plus, he’s a pleasure to coach. The first player at practice, last to leave.”
Entering the season, Johnson and his staff knew they needed some players to step up to fill the void left by graduating several key pieces from the 2014 squad, including last year’s All-Area player of the year Jamison Corbin.
Boyal more than delivered, scoring eight goals and 15 assists, to help Olympia navigate through the ultra-competitive 4A Narrows League and into the first round of the state tournament before losing a tight 1-0 contest to league rival Gig Harbor.
“I’ve been coaching eight years in the Narrows League,” Johnson said. “I can’t remember a player on any team every having that many assists.”
Finding the open player turned into a habit for Boyal, and while the usual thought process among soccer players is a goal-first mentality, Boyal couldn’t care less if the goal came off of his foot or a teammate’s so as long as it finds the back of the net.
“It doesn’t matter. Anyway to help the team,” said Boyal when asked whether he’d rather score a goal or assist on one. “It always feels great to score a goal, but so does setting someone up to score. We’re all celebrating the goal together anyways.”
Boyal’s versatility and athleticism provided Johnson with some flexibility, allowing the coach the luxury of being able to mix up his formations this season.
“We ran a 4-4-2 formation this year because of what Neil can do on the field,” Johnson said. “I’ve never ran that before, but he opens up a lot of opportunities for us because of the type of player he is. He has a motor on him that doesn’t quit. He never stops running.”
It’s been like that for Boyal since he first took up the sport.
“There’s never been anything I’ve enjoyed more than playing soccer,” Boyal said. “I can’t remember a day when I haven’t touched a soccer ball. I’m just always practicing, trying to improve.”
Next year Olympia will once again look to replace plenty of gifted graduated seniors, including Chris Sutton and Davin Johnson, who joined Boyal on the first-team all-Narrows League, but Boyal doesn’t just expect to maintain the quality of play, he anticipates improving it.
“We’re losing a lot of really good seniors,” Boyal said, “but that was also the case coming into this season, and we were able to get back to state. I am going to do whatever it takes to improve on this year’s success.”