SEATTLE — Their journey at the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle was a dream, playing at the University of Washington soccer stadium, being a part of ESPN’s global coverage and marching into Husky Stadium during the opening ceremonies with an all-star cast, including Pacific Northwest dignitaries Seahawks linebacker Shaquem Griffin and Seattle native Ann Wilson of Heart.
Oh yeah, they’re also national champions.
The Othello Unified soccer team won the Division I (five-on-five) gold medal, avenging a pool play loss to Northern California with a 1-nil victory over that same team on Thursday.
The Washington state champions are bringing home the gold and what a journey it’s been.
“I’ll tell ya what, national champions really means something to us. The kids are all excited and they still haven’t settled down,” Team Washington Huskies coach Kevin McDonald said. “We lost to the same team in pool play. So we had to gather, refocus and get ready to play them again.”
The Division I national field included teams from Kansas, Utah, North and South California, Arizona, Washington (2). So for Team Washington to win at Husky Stadium on the home turf, sorta, it doesn’t get any better than that said Josh Lembcke, who scored the game-winner in both the semifinals and the gold medal match.
“I can’t tell you how exciting it is to come over here and win against all these good teams,” Lembcke said. “It was a little spooky having to play defense for so long in the championship game. But we did it.
“Winning the gold medal means everything to us.”
Division I Washington state champions had 11 qualifying students ranging in age from 15-21 years. The team includes Lembcke, Dusty Carlson, Hilario Murillo, Natasha Montejano, Vincent Montejano, Giselle Monroy, Rilee Heist, Carlos Murillo, Christian Quiroz, Candace Montejano and Hunter Sparks.
But on Thursday, on the biggest stage he’s ever played on, the day belonged to Lembcke.
“He struggled (on Wednesday), but he showed up like a Nike star today,” McDonald said. “(In the gold medal game), we scored eight minutes into the game. We scrambled, played defense and were able to hold them off. Josh scored the winning goal in the championship game and had the winning goal in a 3-2 win in the semifinals earlier in the day.”
The 2018 USA Games featured 14 sports in the best sports facilities in the greater Seattle region including the University of Washington, Seattle University, Seattle Pacific University, King County Aquatic Center, Willows Run Golf Club, Celebration Park, Angle Lake and Kenmore Lanes.
It truly was a gold-medal effort for Team Washington Huskies and McDonald was at the heart of the it.
“We are so excited for this opportunity for our athletes and students of Othello High School” Othello Special Education Director Heidi Wagner said. “A special 'Thank you' needs to go to Don Bullis, our athletic director, for supporting, scheduling, and training coaches. He has even been selected to represent us on a special Unified Sports Advisory Committee for Washington State.”
Team mom Tricia Sparks put it all in perspective.
“Kevin McDonald is nothing short of a dream fulfiller,” she said.
Seattle and the surrounding area made it a week to remember and the Othello contingent learned how to dream big and make it happen.
Team Washington Huskies 4, Southern California 1
Goals: Josh Lembke, Christian Quiroz, Giselle Monroy and Hilario Murillo
Team Washington Huskies 2, Washington Titans 1
Goals: Hilario Murillo (2)
Team Washington Huskies 4, Arizona 1
Goals: Josh Lembeke, Giselle Monroy (2), own goal
Team Washington Huskies 3, Utah 0
Goals: Josh Lembeke, Giselle Monroy and Natasha Montejano
Team Washington Huskies 3, Kansas 1
Goals: Hilario Murillo, Giselle Monroy and Hunter Sparks
Northern California 5, Team Washington Huskies 3
Goals: Hilario Murillo (2), Christian Quiroz
Team Washington Huskies 3, Washington Titans 2 (OT)
Goals: Hilario Murillo, Dusty Carlson, Josh Lembeke
Gold medal game
Team Washington Huskies 1, Northern California o
Goal: Josh Lembeke