Tough defense and strong goal keeping.
The combination, historically, has been how the Vikings win women's soccer matches.
This year, goals are coming in bunches and wins are starting to pile up.
"In past years we have struggled in scoring goals," WWU forward Kristin Maris said in a phone interview. "We really wanted to work on that in the offseason and make (scoring) one our strongest points. We've always been known for our defense."
Justifiably so. Senior goal keeper Jamie Arthurs has established herself as one of the best keepers in school history. Few opponents leave a Western soccer match feeling good about its offensive performance.
Coach Travis Connell, once again, has his defense in top form. The back third has surrendered a measly four goals through 11 matches.
Different this year than seasons past, though, is the lack of pressure on Western's defense to perform well every match.
Western has scored 29 times and owns a goal differential of 25 at roughly the midway point in WWU's season. The Vikings scored 25 goals all of last year. It's a major reason Western is tied for first in the GNAC at 6-1-0 and is 9-2-0 overall.
"It's hard to pinpoint," said Maris of what she credits to Western's increased goal production. "I just think our forwards have been working really well together."
That may be an understatement.
Western averaged 1.64 goals per game during its past five seasons. Its strongest offensive output - a 1.84 goals per game average in 2008 - marks the last time the Vikings have made the NCAA Division II Tournament.
This year, Western is averaging 2.64 goals a game and Maris stands at the forefront of the Vikings' attack.
Maris began her Western career heralded as they come. She was selected Class 4A State Player of the Year after a brilliant 2009 senior season at Issaquah High School, where she scored 21 goals, added 10 assists and led the Eagles to the 4A state title game.
Maris scored four goals as a true freshman and matched that total during her sophomore year.
"I was pretty happy after my freshman season, because I didn't really know how big of a role I would play on the team," Maris said. "I thought I did well stepping up where I could. My sophomore year I wanted to play a little better, and I don't know what happened there. I just anticipated playing a little bigger role and wanted to score more."
Seniors Emily Frankland, Megan Chapin and Justina MacDowell spent most of their time in attacking roles last season. Maris only made eight starts.
For someone who is use to piling up goals, Maris said she took her somewhat limited production to heart.
"I kind of made it my personal goal to not let that happen again," Maris said. "I wanted to step up for the team and fill in for the seniors we graduated."
During individual meetings with Connell following 2011, Maris said her coach talked to her about playing an increased role this year.
Maris has certainly responded. At the beginning of the year, Connell said his junior forward is capable of recording double digit goals.
She's well on her way.
Maris ranks second in the GNAC in points with six goals and five assists. She credits her success to her offseason training, teammates and ability to be stronger on ball than seasons past.
"I have become a much more physical player," Maris said. "I am kind of a big, physical presence up front and center. I have been working on being stronger with the ball. My freshman year, I was more scrawny and got pushed of the ball more easily."
The only player ranking ahead of Maris is freshman teammate Catherine Miles, who has six goals and six assists.
"From the first practice, seeing Catherine on the ball, she just seemed so composed all the time," Maris said. "She doesn't let anything get to her, and she is a hard worker. That's what I like about her, and seeing her work hard makes me want to work hard for my team."
Miles is part of a strong freshman class that includes Jessica Bertucci, Stephanie Hamilton and Delanee Nilles.
Though Maris is flourishing in her third season, she's quick to praise her teammates for her recent success.
"I can't take all the credit, because they have really been making it happen," Maris said of her teammates up top. "I've just been getting in the right spot and, honestly, most of my goals have been off easy crosses after their hard work. They have made it really easy and have been great to work with."
With an offense now playing as well as its defense, Western is eyeing a postseason berth.
Reach Andrew Lang at email@example.com or call 360-756-2862.
Reach ANDREW LANG at firstname.lastname@example.org or call ext. 862.