TJ's Neeagle named state soccer MVP


The Mirror

It would be tough for the 2005 season to get any better for the Thomas Jefferson High School boys soccer team after the Raiders rolled to the Class 4A state championship with a 2-1 win over Pasco last month. But it happened earlier this week when TJ swept the state’s Most Valuable Player and Coach of the Year honors, adding to their already impressive resume.

The selections were determined by a panel of statewide sportswriters coordinated by the Tri-City Herald.

Jefferson senior midfielder/forward Lamar Neagle was named Class 4A All-State MVP and TJ head man Darren Sawatzky received 4A Coach of the Year after leading the Raiders to their state-record seventh overall state championship.

Neagle, who will play at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas in the fall, tallied 27 goals and 11 assists during the season, including a school-record six in a regular-season game against Spanaway Lake. The 5-foot-11, 160-pounder missed the Raiders’ first three games of the season with a foot injury and TJ tied all of them and totaled just one goal before erupting for 27 goals in 19 games.

The state title might have been even sweeter for Sawatzky. The fourth-year coach graduated from TJ in 1991 and never won a state championship as a player.

Decatur senior-to-be Ciaran O’Brien was also named first-team, All-State as a midfielder. O’Brien led the Gators to a tie for the South Puget Sound League South Division championship with nine goals and five assists.

Jefferson defender Brandon Sprague, who will join Neagle at UNLV, was named second-team, All-State and TJ forward Rafael Velazquez (13 goals, six assists) earned honorable mention honors.

Both Neagle and Sprague should have a pretty good opportunity to see some playing time as true freshmen at UNLV in the fall. The Rebels graduated 10 seniors from a team that finished 6-11-0 overall and 5-6-0 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation.

“We’re going to have to work with what is basically a completely new team,” said UNLV coach Barry Barto. “It’s going to be a challenge for us this year. I see it as a rebuilding year, but hopefully the challenge of playing against top competition will help in the development of the team and the players.”

In fastpitch, Decatur pitcher Rachael Painter was named to the second-team Class 4A All-State squad. The right-hander finished the season with a 22-7 record on the mound with a school record 299 strikeouts in nearly 200 innings of work. Painter also hit .321 with eight RBIs at the plate for the Gators, who made their first-ever appearance at the Class 4A State Fastpitch Championships.

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