Moments before game time, the white-shirted Woodinville Falcons huddle along their sideline. Their arms are slung around each other’s shoulders as they lean in and listen to head coach Nathan Davis, as he imparts final words of wisdom.
To a reporter standing nearby, what Davis is saying is unintelligible. But his vigorous tone of voice has an air of mischievousness to it. You wonder what’s going on, but don’t want to physically intrude. Suddenly, the players burst into booming laughter. It echoes across the field. The team gives a final unity chant and then disperses, with smiles on many of their faces.
Trotting onto the field is midfielder Ionatan Kuperwajs. As one of the seniors, he’s at the forefront of the effort to change the soccer culture at Woodinville. This marks his second year on the varsity squad, after spending his sophomore season on the JV.
“I’ve had two years with teams that were very talented but we wasted that talent in terms of everybody’s work ethic and dedication to winning,” Kuperwajs said. “That’s the emphasis that me and the captains have this year to put our talent together and do something special. Hopefully, it will help to build into a culture at Woodinville that other juniors and sophomores can follow after we leave.”
Kuperwajs comes from a globetrotting family that’s engrossed in soccer. Born is Spain, he has relatives both in Europe and Argentina, where his father Mario was born.
“Real Madrid is our favorite team, and I’ve always watched games with dad over the weekend,” he said. “We moved to the United States when I was 5, and I’ve always had that interest and connection with my dad. Given the culture, the games happen to play really late at night, between 8-10 PM there, which is like 10AM-12PM here. And that’s pretty nice for a Saturday or Sunday morning to get up and watch a game. Sometimes dad will make pancakes.”
After earning honorable mention last year in KingCo, Kuperwajs drew enough attention to receive a scholarship from Macalester College – a Division III school in St Paul, Minnesota. With his future settled, he can now settle in and enjoy his final year at Woodinville, as the Falcons look to outperform last season’s 3-11 record. As of this writing, their record is 3-4-1, including pre-season.
“This year’s team is a lot more cohesive,” Kuperwajs said. “You can tell that we have much more of a desire to play together and succeed. I think the results will be much better this year than last year.”
In addition to increased cohesiveness, Kuperwajs said his coach is striving to elevate the sophistication of play.
“Davis has been stressing on that possession style of play. High school soccer in general has a reputation for being more physical and less technical than club soccer. Especially in 4A, there are a lot of big kids, so there’s that tendency to try to hit a lot of long balls and attack quickly and find the guy up top – and then it turns into more like a kickball match. We try to avoid that and put the ball down and possess it as much as we can to build our attack. It’s just staying away from the reputation that high school soccer has for being physical and not very technical.”
Kuperwajs expressed appreciation for his coach, and also let on what’s happening in those huddles right before game time.
“Davis has a really good combination of being serious and harsh on us when necessary, but also keeping practices fun and light,” he said. “So there is a competitive atmosphere when we’re practicing, but it’s always in perspective about what sports should be about. About how fun it is to compete. One thing about him that’s new this year is that right before a game, he’ll always have a joke for us in the huddle. Yep, that’s what that was! It definitely keeps us loose.”