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Kyle Nelson is stepping down as CHS boys soccer coach, but will continue to coach the Wolf girls squad. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

Everything is in flux.

When Coupeville High School drops classifications, moving from 1A to 2B starting with the 2020-2021 school year, soccer will be in transition.

At the 1A level, girls soccer plays in the fall, and the boys take the field in the spring.

That’s not true at 2B, however, where all soccer is played in the fall.

With the teams now sharing a season, Kyle Nelson, who previously coached both CHS squads, has decided to step away from the boys program.

He will remain as the Wolf girls coach as the team joins the Northwest 2B/1B League, while the school will hire a new boys head coach.

“We looked at the schedule and we both thought that it just wouldn’t be fair to either program to have him try to coach both at the same time,” said CHS Athletic Director Willie Smith.

There were several dates on the schedule where both the Wolf boys and girls had games, with one squad on the road and one at home.

Add in the crush of running practices for two programs at the same time, and doing a twofer in the same season is a lot to ask of anyone.

Kyle is really excited about the girls program and wants to build it,” Smith said. “Obviously, he was very disappointed in not being able to finish this (boys) season (because of COVID-19), as he was very excited and optimistic about the team this year.

“Both he and I felt that this boys team would have competed at a very high level within the league and could have made some definite headway into the playoffs.”

Nelson started as an assistant coach with the CHS boys program, then moved up to head coach in 2014 after Paul Mendes retired.

He added the girls head coaching job in 2017.

“It’s been amazing having Kyle coach both programs over the past few years,” Smith said. “I couldn’t have asked for a more steady, level-headed, character-driven coach who has a passion for teaching his teams to play the correct way.”

Once he got done blushing, Nelson chimed in, offering his perspective on the change.

“There was just no way to continue to do both with games on different days and different places; there really is no choice but to have two head coaches,” he said. “That meant I had to make the “choice”.

“I have enjoyed my time coaching the boys fully. I originally went into coaching soccer to be involved in the program with my two sons (Loren and William) as they went through high school,” Nelson added.

“I was lucky enough to start by being an assistant with Coach Mendes, who I was able to learn so much from.

“So, at this point nine years later, I feel I have run my course with the boys program and they are ready for a new coach.

“The girls, on the other hand, I have only had three years with.

“I feel like we are just getting started, and I am looking forward to continuing our work.”

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Thanks to a strong turnout, Coupeville High School girls soccer coach Kyle Nelson will have both a varsity and JV this fall. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

If you wanted more soccer, you’re in luck.

The turnout for Coupeville High School’s girls program was strong enough that the Wolves will have a full-time JV squad this fall.

It’s the first time in many years the CHS female booters have been able to field two teams.

That’s a huge boon for the program, as it allows the Wolves to get substantial playing time for everyone on the roster, something which wasn’t always possible the past season or two.

While Coupeville’s varsity has a 15-game schedule, the JV is set to take the pitch 10 times.

The second squad gets home and away games with four of the five other schools in the North Sound Conference, with Granite Falls the only league school not fielding a JV team.

CHS also gets JV games against non-conference foes Port Townsend and Friday Harbor, though the length of both of those road rumbles may be affected by the need to catch certain ferries.

 

The JV girls soccer schedule:

Thur-Sept. 12 — @Friday Harbor (after varsity)
Tues-Sept. 17 — @King’s (4:00)
Thur-Sept. 19 — @Sultan (5:00)
Tues-Sept. 24 — Cedar Park Christian (4:00)
Tues-Oct. 1 — South Whidbey (4:00)
Tues-Oct. 8 — King’s (4:00)
Thur-Oct. 10 — @Port Townsend (after varsity)
Tues-Oct. 15 — Sultan (4:00)
Thur-Oct. 17 — @Cedar Park Christian (4:00)
Mon-Oct. 21 — @South Whidbey (4:00)

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Star player turned assistant coach Luke Pelant “brought a quiet calm to the back line” during his days on the soccer pitch. (Photos by JohnsPhotos.net)

William Nelson was a four-time First-Team All-Conference player.

Kyle Nelson has seen some stuff on the soccer pitch.

He began his run at Coupeville High School as an assistant coach, helping guide several teams to the state tourney.

Then, after Paul Mendes retired, Nelson stepped up to take over the Wolf boys program, before also adding the CHS girls coaching gig last season.

Calm, cool, composed, understated, and a natty dresser to boot, he likes to let his player’s actions speak largely for themselves.

But today, as we publish Part 4 in our five-part series on Coupeville coaches discussing the best players they’ve worked with, Nelson lets loose like never before.

So, let me get out of the way and give the man the mic.

Best female athlete – With only a year as the girl’s soccer coach this is a little harder, but the best athlete would be Lindsey RobertsShe brings speed and agility like no other to the field.

Looking a little further and including those soccer skills, Kalia Littlejohn brings a ton of ball skills and field smarts to the team.

Best male athlete – For pure athleticism, a couple stand out.

Nathan Lamb had that quick burst and lateral movement none could keep up with, and William Nelson (and yes, maybe a little father bias) brought agility and silky smoothness bigger guys don’t usually posses.

Will also brought ball skill and soccer talent that few others in our program have had.

Which brings me to some of those other talented players — all of the Leyva boys.

Abraham Leyva, Aram Leyva and Derek Leyva have brought huge amounts of soccer skill to our field; each, in their own unique way, have been hugely instrumental to our program’s success.

CHS athlete I wish I coached – For the girls that is easy – Makana Stone.

She played for a couple of years, but then focused on her other sports.

She brought speed and athleticism to the field. Having that kind of talent to work with would be very fun.

Though I know he would have never played soccer, having the multi-talented Hunter Smith on the soccer field would have been fun to see what could have happened.

Underrated athletes – for the girls, Sage Renninger.

She really was the heart and soul of the team last year, bringing a leadership and talent that was vital to the team.

For the boys, Luke Pelant.

Was one of the best defenders here at Coupeville; he brought a quiet calm to the back line that made that group responsible for the best defensive team we have had.

Best role model – William Nelson has brought the whole package to the soccer field.

Talented player that became that way through years of hard work, through his playing off-season on various select teams, just going to the field to play, or going to the gym to workout.

One of the few players selected two years team captain; really developed into the team leader both at practice and on the field at game time.

At practice he was always one of the hardest workers, always pushing himself and leading by example. He also always kept his cool on the field, helping calm players down when needed.

Really represented CHS with great sportsmanship and class.

And lastly, but most importantly he excelled as a student athlete, balancing sport and academics very successfully.

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   Luke Pelant (left), hangs out with coach Paul Mendes during the 2013 CHS boys soccer awards banquet. (Photo by Robert Pelant)

One by one, the former Wolves return.

Luke Pelant is the latest Coupeville High School grad to return to his alma mater, only this time as a coach and not a player.

He is joining the boys soccer team as an assistant coach to Kyle Nelson, in a move which will be official when the School Board gives its approval.

Pelant had an illustrious soccer career at CHS, capped by a senior season in 2013, when he was a captain, was named the team’s MVP and was tabbed as an All-League player by Cascade Conference coaches.

He also received the US Army Reserve National Scholar/Athlete Award that year.

After high school, Pelant attended Washington State University, where he studied marketing.

During his time as a Wolf, he played for legendary soccer coach Paul Mendes, an international pitch star who capped his career in Coupeville.

A leader during his time on the field for the Wolves, Pelant is looking forward to helping shape a new generation of players.

“I just love the game so much,” he said. “I want to be around it more and hopefully bring more players to love it as much as I do.”

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   Soccer Jedi Avalon Renninger mentally calculates how much of the net she needs to see to be able to score. (John Fisken photos)

   All-Conference players (l to r) Lindsey Roberts, Kalia Littlejohn and Sage Renninger are back to create havoc.

One step from the top.

That’s where the Coupeville High School girls soccer team has been, with three consecutive second-place finishes since the 1A Olympic League opened for business.

Of course, when you’re chasing Klahowya, the 2014 state champs and a team which hasn’t lost in 20 conference games, making that next step is a huge one.

Coupeville made an inroad last year, when Lindsey Roberts netted a pair of goals in a mid-season loss to the Eagles.

That was the first, and, so far, only time Klahowya has surrendered more than one goal to an Olympic League rival.

As the 2017 season dawns on the horizon, Roberts, now a junior, is back, joining fellow All-Conference players Sage Renninger and Kalia Littlejohn to form a potent trio all hankering to be on the first Wolf squad to upend the Eagles on the pitch.

CHS coach Kyle Nelson, making his debut on the girls side of the ball after expanding his empire to include running both Wolf soccer programs, is upbeat as he gazes ahead.

“I believe we will do real well this year,” he said. “We should be strong in the league, but Klahowya, as usual in soccer, will be very tough.

“We would like to see an extended run in the playoffs this year.”

Coupeville is coming off its first winning season in program history, having gone 8-7-1 overall, 6-3 in league play last year, but the Wolves return missing a considerable chunk of offense.

Mia Littlejohn, who was Olympic League Co-MVP after scoring a school record 27 goals in 2016, transferred to Lake Stevens for her senior season.

While her big sister unexpectedly departed, Kalia Littlejohn remained at home, and she’s a deadly weapon herself, having rattled home 18 goals in her first two seasons.

She led the Wolves with 10 scores as a freshman, then tacked on eight more last year, and is a strong bet to make a run at the school’s career records for goals.

If she doubles her output, Kalia would nip Mia, who finished with 35 goals. Pick up the pace a bit and she could go after Abraham Leyva, who tallied 45 in boys play.

Roberts scored six as a sophomore, an especially strong number for a defender, while current sophomores Tia Wurzrainer (3), Anna Dion (1) and Avalon Renninger (1) are other returning goal scorers.

Nelson inherits a strong core with a mix of goal scorers and glue players such as senior Sage Renninger, who was a First-Team All-League pick and team captain in 2016, as well as steady senior Lauren Bayne and speedy sophomore Mallory Kortuem.

Junior Ema Smith and sophomore Megan Thorn also return, while juniors Sarah Wright and Maddy Hilkey and sophomore Natalie Hollrigel have jumped to soccer after playing other sports.

Rounding out the squad are five freshmen — Knight Arndt, Mollie Bailey, Aurora Cernick, Genna Wright and Lily Zustiak.

“We have a good returning core from last year, so there is some experience on the team,” Nelson said. “And the new players are eager to learn. The girls have a great positive spirit and we are going to use that to build through the season.

“As any other year it will take time for us to integrate the new players to the team,” he added. “And, of course, this is my first year coaching this team, so it will take some time for us to come together on the same page.”

Win, lose or draw (and no one in the stands likes a draw…), the Wolf booters will come out aggressively, looking to build on last year’s success.

Coupeville heads to Oak Harbor Stadium Thursday for a jamboree (4:30 PM), then opens the 16-game regular season at South Whidbey Sept. 7.

Nelson, for one, is already counting down the hours until kick-off.

“I am excited for this year, and that has only grown as we have started the year. The girls have a great attitude and we are looking forward to having some fun.”

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