Playing at another level


Sports editor

When Darren Sawatzky took over his alma mater’s soccer program last season, he knew he had a special talent in Chris Sanders.

“Things just came real easy for him,” the Jefferson head coach said.

Maybe too easy for the 6-foot-1 forward.

“Before I got my grips on him, I was told he was a lazy player,” Sawatzky said. “That is one thing about being a forward. You don’t have to run as hard as everyone else on the field. I helped introduce him to what it takes to get to the next level.”

Mission accomplished.

During his junior season in 2002, Sanders scored 21 goals, good for second in the South Puget Sound League South Division to Decatur’s Alex Chursky, and earned first-team, all-league honors.

“He really helped me out with my conditioning,” said Sanders. “He helped me to work hard every time I get on the field. He has taught me several workout routines and now it’s just everyday stuff like watching what I eat and not sitting on the couch eating Ho-Ho’s.”

Sawatzky didn’t have much trouble getting Sanders’ attention.

The Raiders coach graduated from Jefferson in 1991 and signed with the University of Portland, where he played for four years. After graduation, Sawatzky has made a living playing soccer with stops in Mexico, England and four years in Major League Soccer. He currently is playing with the Seattle Sounders, along with coaching the Raiders.

“He definitely knows what he is talking about,” said Sanders.

Sanders hopes to follow in his coach’s path –– literally.

He took the first step when he committed to take his soccer talents to the University of Portland next season after visiting the campus in the fall. Sanders will play for legendary Pilots coach Clive Charles, who Sawatzky also played under.

“It just seemed like the logical step in advancing my career as a soccer player,” Sanders said. “I thought it was a great place and that really struck me.”

Portland is in the elite group of programs in the nation and sports one of the top soccer-only stadiums in the country. Merlo Field seats 5,000 fans and the Portland men’s soccer team led the nation in attendance last season.

“It is a big-time, Division I program,” said Sawatzky, who knows from experience.

The Pilots finished the 2002 season with a 10-9 shootout loss to the eventual NCAA runner-up Stanford Cardinal in the second round of the NCAA College Cup. Portland finished the season ranked No. 16 with a 13-6-1 record, including the program’s fifth West Coast Conference title.

Sanders will be one of three incoming freshman that will take the field for the Pilots next season. Midfielder Eric Fredback from Boise and midfielder Bobak Talebi from Kirkland will join Sanders.

“Christopher Sanders is a target player up top, which we haven’t had in the past few seasons,” said Charles, who coached the Portland women to the 2002 NCAA national championship and has also been a coach of the United States men’s national team.

“I think I’ll get some playing time next year,” Sanders said. “They lost two forwards from this year’s team, so my chances are very good.

Sanders, who is an honor student with a 3.5 grade-point average at Jefferson, plans to major in business accounting at Portland.

“I think his potential is limited only to his desire,” said Sawatzky.

But Sanders isn’t done at Jefferson. He wants to bring another state championship banner into the Raider gym before he graduates in June. Jefferson is well on its way. The Raiders are currently 7-0-1 in the SPSL South and have allowed only one goal this entire season.

“That’s the goal (to win state),” Sanders said. “I’m pretty confident in our chances. We are playing for one of the best soccer programs in the state. Everytime you go out on the field you have to represent TJ soccer.”

And the Raiders are doing it this season without Sanders lighting up the goal. The senior has tallied only five goals in Jefferson’s first eight games thanks to a little extra attention from opposing teams.

“I’ve been getting like triple-teamed,” Sanders said. “But that’s the way it goes. Our team’s production is still there. Just as long as the team wins, that’s all that matters.”

“He is a real big presence out there,” said Sawatzky. “He is definitely a goal scorer. But he makes people around him better. All the kids really respect him.

“He leads by example.”

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565,

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