Common goals unite diverse team

LYNNWOOD — A native of Iraq mixes with American suburbanites on the sideline, cheering on teammates who hail from Bulgaria, Ethiopia and Mexico.

They circle the soccer field, clawing and scratching for the Lynnwood program's first varsity victory in more than three seasons, Nigerians and Yugoslavs and Vietnamese forming a distinctly international flavor.

Forty-two players make up the varsity and junior-varsity boys soccer teams at Lynnwood High School. Coaches estimate 14 nationalities among that grouping.

So many differences — race, ethnicity, religion, belief systems. So many potential problems and so much potential hate. Two similarities transcend all that: the "Lynnwood" emblazoned on their jerseys and their love for soccer.

"I believe in this: The United States is all about different races, different religions and getting into one nation, and one team, to get along and be peaceful," said Daghan Kasim, a Turkish assistant coach. "Especially in a time like this, that's so, so important."

They came to America for different reasons at different times, each in search of a better life.

Matthew Aina's family won a lottery in Nigeria and moved to the United States on Memorial Day 2000. Aleksandar Stankovic's father was a political prisoner in Yugoslavia for two years, and the family escaped the warring country in 1995. Ali Finchan's family moved from Iraq to Syria when he was 7, then to the United States two years ago.

They all find themselves on the same team, playing the world's most popular sport. It's a beautiful thing to watch: an Iraqi and an American fighting only over soccer balls, then slapping each other high-fives and shouting words of encouragement, not hatred.

"I just try not to watch the TV, avoid a lot of it," said Finchan, who still has family in Iraq. "I want to open the TV tomorrow and see that everything is over. That's what I know. War is bad.

"But soccer, soccer is different. It is the most popular sport in the world. Every culture likes soccer. And we have lots of cultures. Just look around."

"Big team," Bulgarian Miroslav Handev said. "No groups. One big family. It makes us brothers."

The first-year coach, Tim Colvin, surveyed the field at a recent practice and marveled at the cohesiveness of his international grouping. "Pretty remarkable, isn't it?" he asked.

But with so much going against them — a losing streak that spans three seasons, historical hatred among nationalities, differences that span the roster — how do they get along?

"Historically, they haven't," Colvin said. "That's part of what the problem has been. You have to put together a program that eliminates all that."

He has, with the help of Kasim, a former world-class player in Turkey. If teammates so much as laugh at someone tripping, they run laps. If they make fun of a different nationality, they run laps. If they don't support the rest of the team, they run some more.

Still, the group presents Colvin with unusual situations. Some of his players, such as Bulgarian speedster Handev, have to work at full-time jobs to support their families and miss games. Others are used to playing the soccer style of their home countries.

To work with the differences, the new coaching staff devised a European, one-touch soccer style (more passing, less dribbling). And they laid the ground rules, none more important than respecting each other — or else.

"They will run until they respect each other," Kasim said. "And now they don't argue about anything. It's about being peaceful, like everybody in the world should be right now."

Players and coaches hope that cohesion translates into victories.

"Soccer is the perfect game to bring everyone together," said James Daniel, a four-year captain and the only player left who ever won a varsity game. "The streak will end this year. I guarantee it."

Play her anywhere

She is Kamiak's best pitcher. And Kamiak's best hitter. And one of Kamiak's best fielders. Krista Colburn is so good at so many things that fastpitch-softball coach Rachel Kane says, "I'm confident I could play her anywhere."

Case in point: In a 10-0 win over Shorewood two weeks ago, Colburn pitched a complete-game two-hitter, struck out nine and was 3-for-4 while driving in two runs and scoring two more. She's batting .412 this season and owns a 0.26 earned-run average, while the Knights have stormed to the top of the WesCo South Division.

"I've seen a lot more mental toughness out of her this year," Kane said. "She's really putting it together."

Unmatched athleticism

Jackson track coach Eric Hrushka prefaced his comment with an I-don't-usually-say-this disclaimer before gushing, "Brandon Myers is the best athlete in the conference."

His explanation: the senior finished sixth at state in the high jump last year (6 feet 3 inches) and 12th in the triple jump (42 feet 4). Last week, he ran the 110-meter high hurdles for the first time — and broke the Mill Creek school's record.

Myers ranks only a "step or two" behind Craig Chambers, a University of Washington football recruit who is one of the division's fastest in the 100 meters.

Myers wants to compete in the decathlon in college but hasn't signed anywhere. Hrushka said he would put him in any event except the 3,200, then added, "And I wouldn't bet against him in that one, either."

Everett coach Doug Hall confirmed, "He's one of the best athletes I've seen in years. He's amazing."

Goal tear

Coaches approach Steve Hofmann before each Lakewood soccer game and say they'll be sure to mark Bryce Barker, the school's all-time leader in goals with 51. It hasn't helped, however, as Barker scored 15 in Lakewood's first five games (all wins), including nine last week alone.

"It's a bit of a surprise, even for him," Hofmann said. "He puts himself in position to score almost every single possession."

Hofmann says Barker accounts for 85 percent of the team's goals, but Barker just deflects credit.

"I've just been getting the passes from everybody," he said. "I've been in the right place at the right time."

Around the county

• Last week, we wrote about the work ethic of Edmonds-Woodway baseball player Ian Gac, and it appears the hard work is paying off. In his first five games, Gac was 9-for-19 with eight runs batted in and four home runs — bombs that measured between 375 and 430 feet.

• Everett center Adam Moore committed to Southern Oregon University in Ashland last week. The first-team All-WesCo South selection averaged 20.8 points and seven rebounds last season.

• Snohomish County will benefit from an international soccer game played recently at Seahawks Stadium. The turf used in the contest has been donated to the Mukilteo School District — all 86,000 square feet of hybrid bermuda grass.

• For the fourth time, Archbishop Murphy's baseball team won in its last at-bat, beating Friday Harbor 8-7 last week. Patrick Ackerman scored the winning run after Jeff Arkell was hit by a pitch.

• When the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association moved the start of football practice back to Aug. 20, some WesCo teams were able to add another game to the schedule. The Edmonds district plans a tripleheader Sept. 6 with Meadowdale of Lynnwood playing Newport of Bellevue, Mountlake Terrace playing Oak Harbor and Edmonds-Woodway playing Lake Stevens at Edmonds Stadium. In the Mukilteo School District, Kamiak plays Stanwood and Mariner plays Marysville-Pilchuck at Mariner's Goddard Stadium on Sept. 5.

Greg Bishop: 206-464-3191 or