FERNDALE - Freshman defender Bryce Sherif wasn't surprised to start her first high school soccer game, but she sure didn't expect to play all 80 minutes under intense pressure on a warm, bug-infested afternoon.
"This was really exhausting," Sherif said, talking about the relentless style displayed by both teams in defending Northwest Conference champion Sehome's 2-1 non-conference victory over improved Ferndale on a warm Tuesday, Sept. 4.
"I expected to start, but I sure didn't expect to play the entire game," said Sherif, whose team was minus three regulars, including two defenders, and had to contend with a feisty, hustling Ferndale squad.
"That was a great first effort by No. 9 (Sherif)," said Sehome coach Andria Fountain, whose squad went 19-2 last season and started five seniors Tuesday. "It was a strong effort by all the girls. We had only three subs (available in the field) and a lot of the girls had to play the entire game."
Such extensive duty was tough on the Mariners in former Lynden coach Joe Gonzalez's debut with the Golden Eagles, who went 5-9-3 last season. Sehome provided the defensive test he expected, but Ferndale likewise peppered fourth-year Mariners goalkeeper Rachel Albert with more shots than she usually sees.
"I was very proud of all our girls," said Gonzalez, whose team had to play without one of its leading scoring threats, fourth-year striker Kelli Bannerman. She was sidelined after being hospitalized for appendicitis eight days earlier, but she said she hopes to return next week.
Ferndale, which forced Albert to make seven saves, received an encouraging effort from inexperienced senior Vernelle Johnson, who looked anything like a a goalie who started only two games last season. Johnson recorded 10 saves, several of them with acrobatic, fearless dives.
"Vernelle came up big," said Gonzalez. "She's a big, strong girl."
Gonzalez also came up with the quip of the match when an official asked him what all those thousands of flying bugs were about during the heat of an intense second half.
"That's our secret weapon," Gonzalez said with a grin. "We just released those bugs (for the second half)."
Sehome broke a scoreless tie in the first minute of the second half as quick junior Emily Webster scored on an unassisted short power shot. The Mariners made it 2-0 in the 59th minute as returning offensive standout Hanna Tarleton scored on a drive off Webster's assist. It was one of Tarleton's few good chances.
"I gave our player of the game award to one of our sophomores, Shelby Slaughter," Gonzalez said. "In addition to her assist on our goal, she did a good job defensively against their big threat (Tarleton)."
The Eagles wouldn't go quietly. With nine minutes remaining, senior Koral Weidkamp scored out of a crowd off a pass from Slaughter.
Sehome's starting back line also included another alert freshman, Katie Boon-Dooley, along with seniors Hannah Mankle and Alli Umbaugh plus Sherif. They helped hold the Golden Eagles to six shots in the first half, during which Albert was called on to make two saves.
But in the second half, Gonzalez was thrilled to see his team respond to adversity by forcing Albert to make five saves before the Golden Eagles scored.
"We definitely improved from the start of the game to the finish," Gonzalez said.
Sehome senior Teya Mischaikov provided her usual leadership and hustle at midfield. Likewise, Ferndale's versatile Corrie Wilson, one of four seniors who started, displayed the communication skills, leadership and hustle Gonzalez expects from the multi-sport standout.
Sehome figures to get another strong challenge on Thursday night, Sept. 6, against Squalicum at Civic Stadium. Meanwhile, Ferndale hopes to continue to get the bugs out of its offense - or maybe leave those bugs on the field - against Bellingham at Ferndale.
SEHOME 2, FERNDALE 1
Scoring: Goal: Emily Webster (S); time: 41. Goal: Hanna Tarleton (S); assist: Webster; time: 59. Goal: Koral Weidkamp (F); assist: Shelby Slaughter; time: 71. Shots -- Sehome 20. Ferndale 13. Goalkeepers (saves) -- Sehome: Rachel Albert (7); Ferndale: Vernelle Johnson (10).