Measuring Sehome keeper Rachel Albert's abilities during her career was never easy.
She didn't record double-digit saves a game. She hardly was the sole reason for a win, and she always had a strong supporting cast.
In four years, she played 91 varsity matches, allowed only 44 goals and posted 55 shutouts. How's that for measurables?
She recorded a 0.48 goals against average and had 11 more career shutouts than career goals allowed. She scored three times, too.
"It's kind of funny," Sehome coach Andria Fountain said in a phone interview. "All the Northwest Conference coaches get together and vote on players of the year. We had a lot of new coaches this year, and I had to kind of talk up Rachel, because it's hard to see how good she really is."
Albert's own mother wasn't completely convinced until she saw her at practice last year.
"Her mom stopped by practice one day, and we were doing shooting drills," Fountain recalled. "(Albert) was just making save after save, and her mom said, 'Wow, she's really good, isn't she?' A lot of people never really saw what she was capable of."
Albert has been selected The Bellingham Herald's All-Whatcom County Girls' Soccer Player of the Year. Squalicum coach David Kish, who led the Storm to a history-making season, ending in the state tournament's final four, is Coach of the Year.
It's hard to showcase a goalie's skills when the team has a 81-8-2 record over four years.
For all those who didn't get to see Albert's gifted athletic ability, though, there were plenty who did.
Count Klahowya coach Troy Oelschlager was one who bore witness. "I was trying my hardest not to get into a shootout, because I saw they had Hope Solo in goal," Oelschlager told the Kitsap Sun in a refernce to the US Olympic gold medalist. "She's the best keeper I've seen at this level, I think ever."
Sehome beat Klahowya in a shootout to advance to the 2012 Class 2A State Tournament semifinals. Albert made several key saves.
"I think the Klahowya game was probably the top game of the season," Albert said in a phone interview. "We went into a shootout in that one, and I made, I think, two saves. In the huddle after, all the girls were so excited we had just gotten farther than last year and realized we made it the state tournament semifinals. Nobody expected us to be there. That was one of the highlights of the season for me personally."
Albert may not have been the only reason her team's won a state title, placed second, third and reached the quarterfinals in her four years, but she certainly was relied on more heavily this season than others.
The Mariners lost standout forwards Jessica Bertucci and Madison Heilmann at the end of last year to graduation. Lacking the number of proven goal scorers Sehome's had in the past, Albert knew her side wouldn't simply outscore the competition.
"Last year there were definitely some games where I felt like I could sit back and watch," Albert said. "I knew with Haley Smith and Emily Russell, they would do their job. I knew this year things were going to be a little different and I needed to come in prepared for that. So over the summer, I was making sure that I was working hard during Rangers to break bad habits so I could be playing my best."
Her attention to detail paid dividends.
Albert's combined efforts with defensive-oriented starters Alli Umbaugh, Hannah Mankle, Russell and Teya Mischaikov ranked second among NWC teams in goals allowed. Sehome was scored on 13 times and posted a league-best 14 shutouts. The Mariners gave up one goal in their final 12 regular season games.
Albert's impact wasn't only felt on the defensive end.
Fountain was able to tweak her offense and experiment with different pieces because of Albert's mere presence in goal. It allowed the Mariners to discover their offensive identity by postseason.
Even when opponents didn't get the chance to try to beat Albert during the game, they often saw how tough it'd be before the game even started.
"I think it's just her sheer physical ability," Fountain said of what makes her keeper special. "I always take a look at the other goalies in warmups to see what I can pick up. With (Albert), it intimidates them, because she is so good. She makes saves in warmups, and it makes other coaches nervous. They know she's spectacular."
As spectacular as Albert's skill set is, her intangibles are just as impressive.
Fountain said Albert, who biked to practice everyday from her home off Alabama Street, had a flawless attendance record. She also came into her own as a team leader while serving as a team co-captain.
"I think her leadership really came out," Fountain said. "As a freshman goalie, it's hard to come out and direct seniors. She was team captain this year and embraced (being a leader) on and off the field."
"Being a leader is something I really improved on this year," she noted.
Albert stars on the hardwood and on the diamond, as well. Realistically, she could play collegiate soccer, basketball or softball.
She signed a letter of intent a month ago to play basketball at Western Washington University. That doesn't mean her soccer career is over, though.
"Travis (Connell) is my club coach for Rangers and obviously Western, too. He had been talking to me about playing soccer at Western, and then the basketball program started recruiting me," Albert said. "At first, I thought it was soccer or nothing. I've played basketball all through high school and have decided that's my passion. It was a very tough decision, but I have to go with the game I love most."
Western women's basketball coach Carmen Dolfo is getting a tremendous athlete, but Albert is leaving her options open for Western soccer, saying if she has the time, she may consider playing the grass sport, too.
Reach Andrew Lang at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-756-2862.
THROUGH THE YEARS
The Bellingham Herald's All-Whatcom County Girls' Soccer Athlete of the Year winners:
2012: Rachel Albert, Sehome
2011: Coryn Bajema, Lynden Christian
2010: Jessica Bertucci, Sehome
2009: Kaytlyn Steele, Ferndale
2008: Tanya Haggen, Sehome
2007: Mari Tarleton, Sehome
2006: Molly Shannon, Bellingham
2005: Molly Shannon, Bellingham
Reach ANDREW LANG at email@example.com or call ext. 862.