Two years ago, Squalicum juniors Lauren Gibb, Lizzy Herda and Gracie Slater spent time practicing with, coaching and mentoring Storm freshmen Kim Hazlett, Kim Dorr and Rachel Dorr in the Whatcom Rangers club soccer program.
Now they're making history together.
Coach David Kish said he doesn't judge players before tryouts start. He got an early Christmas present with his talented trio of super freshmen.
Maybe the familiarity Hazlett, Kim and Rachel gained while playing with older Storm players has helped them make a successful transition to the varsity game. Perhaps playing against top competition prior to high school soccer helped them integrate seamlessly into Kish's squad. One thing's for certain, Squalicum's pint-sized Big 3 can flat out play.
"I think the past few years, we always seem to bring in a few freshmen that have quality," Kish said in a phone interview. "I think the three we have have made a huge impact overall on the team. What Rachel is doing right now and, having Kim and Kim, they are a class above."
Buy they're a school class or two or three below just about every opposing player.
Rachel has taken over the Storm's right back position and has helped limit opponents to a NWC-best eight goals (0.42 goals against average) and 12 shutouts. Hazlett has quickly established herself as one of the top goal scorers in Whatcom County with 19 goals, tying her for the league lead. Kim ranks second, behind Hazlett, in team goals with nine, and she scored twice in Squalicum's biggest game of the year - a 2-1 win against city-rival Sehome to claim Class 2A's Northwest District title.
"I have probably never been squeezed so hard in my life after I scored those two goals," Kim said in a phone interview. "It was so overwhelming. It was the best feeling. My cheeks starting hurting after the game. Everyone came up to me and was hugging me. It was the best feeling, and one I hope to keep with me forever."
Kim and the Storm (17-1-1) will look to create more memorable moments during the Class 2A State Tournament. Squalicum opens play against Fife at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 6, at Civic Stadium.
Each freshman serves a different vital role, and each player quickly made their impact felt.
Against Sehome in the Storm's season opener, Rachel received the ultimate defensive test.
"The first game we played Sehome, and my core job was to mark Hanna Tarleton," Rachel said. "I had recently read a huge article about her saying how she's scored so much. I was intimidated. I played the best I could, and I could tell she was getting frustrated with me."
Rachel has joined Jackie Dierdorff and senior captains Lauren Wallace and Andrea DeVere to form a near impenetrable defense.
During Squalicum's second match of the season against Ferndale, a 3-0 win, Kim and Hazlett recorded points on the score sheet and haven't looked back since.
Kish began playing Kim in a central defensive mid role, but two weeks into the season he moved her to an outside forward position. She immediately had success.
"I've adapted really quickly, and I've really enjoyed it," Kim said.
If the Storm had any question marks entering the season, it was who could step up and fill the go-to scoring role that graduated senior Kylie Garrison played a year ago.
Attacking players Gibb, Slater and Sarah Byron have all had a hand in scoring. Slater has distributed a team-best 10 assists. It's Hazlett, though, who has shouldered the scoring load.
"It's definitely not something I expected," said Hazlett in a phone interview when asked if she thought she'd be one of the league leaders in goals at season's end. "I didn't see that coming."
The Dorr sisters and Hazlett credited their ability to succeed right away to how welcoming older players have been. They all said upperclassmen have created a true family atmosphere they've felt extremely comfortable in.
Kish thinks it's a combination of the skills his three freshmen had coming in, coupled with their dedication to working hard at practice that has allowed them to thrive on the varsity level. He also agreed with his freshen, saying his senior leaders have welcomed them with open arms.
"I think you have to give credit to the leadership on the team of my upperclassmen," Kish said. "They have totally welcomed them into the program and have made those girls feel comfortable. They were tentative at first, but now they realize they're a part of this team as much as anyone."
Since day one, Squalicum has had one main objective. That was getting to the state tournament. The last three years, the Storm qualified for the districts only to fall a game or two short of making their state objective. All three freshmen have been thrilled to help seniors like DeVere, Wallace and Zoe Peterson make state in their final year.
"It felt so amazing not just that we were going to state, but also that we did that for our seniors who had been waiting so long to get there," Rachel said. "Never even having been to the district championship before, it's great to make this new history together."
For Hazlett and the Dorr sisters, this season hasn't only given them a chance to play with older players, it has reunited them after Hazlett left the Rangers program a year ago to play for Seattle's Crossfire premier soccer club.
"I think it has been great," said Hazlett of the opportunity to play with the Dorr sisters. "Growing up, I played with them for many years. As freshmen, we are in the same exact situation."
When Squalicum steps on the Civic Stadium turf Tuesday night, for the first time this season, the freshmen trio will have the same game experience as the rest of the Storm, which have never competed in a state match either.
They are looking forward to playing unfamiliar top competition, making a deep playoff run and playing in front of their home crowd.
"Playing at home, classmates can come out and support you, and sometimes they'll make signs," Kim said. "There is a lot of support."
Squalicum's freshmen have proved they can do just about everything the Storm's older players can, but that doesn't mean Kim and Rachel will stop asking neighbor Gibb for morning rides to school.
Reach Andrew Lang at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-756-2862.
STATE SOCCER SCHEDULE
TUESDAY, NOV. 6
CLASS 2A STATE TOURNAMENT
? First round: Fife at Squalicum (at Civic Stadium), 6 p.m.
? First round: Sehome at North Kitsap, 7 p.m.
WEDNESDAY, NOV. 7
CLASS 1A STATE TOURNAMENT
? First round: Meridian at Elma (at Stewart Field, Aberdeen), 6 p.m.
Reach ANDREW LANG at email@example.com or call ext. 862.