Sports

Defensive Force

By CASEY OLSON

The Mirror

Defense wins championships.

It’s a motto that has been emblazoned on thousands of sports teams’ T-shirts all the way from Little League to the professional ranks. But, there’s a reason why so many coaches choose the slogan as an example-setter for any given season — it’s happens to be a fact.

Just ask the Decatur High School boys soccer team.

The Gators’ defense has been pretty close to flawless this season and has Decatur chasing their second-straight South Puget Sound League South Division championship. The Gators currently lead the South with a 5-1-0 record and seem primed to make a run at their third Class 4A state title since 2000.

A large part of the success of the Decatur defense can be attributed to the play and leadership of senior sweeper Rey Mills.

“He does whatever is best for the team,” said first-year head coach Justyn Scholze. “He really understands the game and anticipates well.”

Mills and the rest of the defense have allowed only four goals this season in 10 matches while compiling an 8-1-1 record. But half of those came Friday night during a 2-1 loss to the defending state-champion Thomas Jefferson Raiders. A game that Mills sat out after suffering a freak eye injury during a Decatur practice last week.

After striking a shot on goal, the ball bounced off the keeper and directly into Mills’ right eye.

“I went down right away,” he said. “I was bleeding all over. It hurt like crazy.”

But Mills didn’t really think anything of the injury until he woke up the next morning in excruciating pain. He eventually went to an eye doctor, who diagnosed him with a tear in his retina. The tear required immediate laser surgery, which happened last Tuesday.

“He told me that I needed the surgery otherwise I would have went blind,” Mills said.

But playing through pain is nothing new to Mills. He played the final six weeks of his club season with a partial tear of the patella tendon in his knee. He returned to the Gators’ lineup last night after missing a weeks’ worth of games.

“He does whatever is best for the team,” Scholze said. “He’s got as much experience as anyone. All-around, our defense has been real solid.”

The senior is the leader of a very veteran defensive group that also includes goalkeeper Sean McKenzie, Skyler Nakashima, John Hopkins, Scott McKenzie and Eric Orozco.

“This year our goals are pretty high,” Mills said. “The captains are looking to win the state championship this year. But we still have to work hard to get that. We have a lot of talent. We are all returners on defense.”

A bulk of the Gators’ lineup also play Premier 1 soccer during the offseason with select, club teams. Mills played with Tacoma’s FC United for three years with fellow Decatur seniors Ciaran O’Brien and Josh Norwood. As 16 year olds, the group finished second in the nation and all three will play Division I soccer someday. O’Brien has committed to play at the University of San Diego and Norwood will take the field for the University of Connecticut Huskies in the fall. Mills’ college soccer experience will take an extra year to become a reality. He is set to enroll in the United States Air Force Academy Prep School in the fall before being officially accepted into the full-fledged, four-year academy in Colorado Springs next year.

“It will give me a chance to get my grades up a little bit for them,” Mills said. “I was shooting to get a full-ride and it basically is. It is just like an extra year of high school.”

While O’Brien and Norwood get all the media attention, Mills has quietly put together an impressive resume earning all-league and all-city honors a season ago. Like offensive linemen on the football field, the back defenders in soccer rarely see their names in the newspaper. That distinction is saved for the goal scorers. Mills has yet to score a goal this season and probably won’t.

But Mills wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I just want to win,” he said. “And I think that we have the experience to do that.”

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565, sports@fedwaymirror.com

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