Nathan Merrill is back to lead the Oak Harbor soccer attack this spring. (Photo by John Fisken)

Nathan Merrill is back to lead the Oak Harbor soccer attack this spring. (Photo by John Fisken)

Prep preview / Oak Harbor soccer

The Oak Harbor High School soccer team will have to grow up in a hurry if it wants to qualify for the postseason.

Graduation robbed the Wildcats of most of its starters from 2017, and only one player who scored last year, Nathan Merrill, returns this spring.

Oak Harbor finished 3-7-2 and in 11th place in the 13-team Western Conference last year (5-8-3 overall), missing the playoffs for the third straight season.

The team’s goal, coach Jeff Laiblin said, is to “get over the final hurdle that we have been stuck on and make the postseason.”

This year’s club is young and inexperienced, but Laiblin said there is a “solid core of returners” to lead the Wildcats into battle.

Returning lettermen include seniors Eric Closson (midfield) and Taylor Jackson (defense); juniors Julian Hinkle (midfield), Kanoa King (defense, striker), Mason Rhodes (midfield) and Merrill (striker); and sophomore Ethan Snell (defense).

Closson received Wesco honorable mention accolades last spring.

Others in the mix for varsity playing time, according to Laiblin, are senior Andrew Eaton (midfield); junior Taiveyon Shaw (midfield, striker); sophomores Ridgely Briddell (defense, midfield), Max Brighton (keeper), Alex Johnston (defense, midfield), Brandon McCracken (midfield, striker) and Jaydon Wallace (midfield) and freshman Jon Pierce (midfield).

The group, Laiblin said, is “showing great chemistry.”

Oak Harbor travels to Lakewood to play in a jamboree at 5 p.m. Thursday, March 8. Stanwood (1-13-2 last year) visits for the home opener at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 10.

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