BELLINGHAM - Bellingham midfielder Brad Dale couldn't believe his good fortune when he learned he would never have to play defense against fellow senior Conlon Kiffney again - at least not in high school soccer.
Instead, Dale may wind up leading the Northwest Conference in assists in the wake of the quick Kiffney's transfer from Sehome to Bellingham following a family move.
In their first three games as high school teammates, Dale has assisted on all four of Kiffney's goals, including a score in Bellingham's 2-0 non-conference victory over Sehome on Saturday, March 16, at Civic Stadium.
"I was very excited to learn last summer I would be playing with Conlon," said Dale, who scored the other goal against the Mariners (2-1-1) via a 35-yard howitzer with the wind. "He's a very frustrating guy to play against. And we know each other, since we've played six years together with our (Whatcom) Rangers club team."
Bellingham coach Matt Zigulis is just as excited over the potential the Red Raiders (3-0) have displayed while outscoring its first-week opponents 7-1.
"I'm excited I don't have to coach against Conlon," Zigulis said of the former two-year starter at Sehome. "I've coached those two (in club) since they were little kids."
Zigulis is just as excited that Bellingham soccer is much more than the two productive seniors.
"I really liked the way we played in the second half today," Zigulis said. "That was the first time today's back line, Lars Botterill, Nick Bippley, (freshman) Blake Langei and Hunter Hadfield, has played together. They did a fine job."
Sehome earned only one shot on goal in the second half, resulting in a save by Bellingham's fourth-year goalkeeper, Auden Schilder, in the final moments. In all, Schilder faced only three shots and made two saves, including a leaping rescue seconds before the end of a scoreless first half.
"We just fell flat in the second half," said Sehome coach John Sylvester, whose team played its fourth non-league game in six days and came in with five goals. "Our mids and forwards just couldn't connect. Bellingham just had that second-half focus, and we didn't. They out-hustled us a bit. But I'm confident we have the building blocks for a successful season."
Conditions were about as miserable as they could be, as part of the field quickly puddled in heavy rain. At one point in the second half, it appeared a huge pond would quickly take over half the field until the rain subsided a bit with 25 minutes remaining, but it turned into a horror show only for the Mariners.
First-year Sehome goalkeeper Izzy Taft made four saves in the first half, including a diving save against Kiffney. But 10 minutes into the second half, Dale sent a laser into the top of the net from 35 yards to snap the scoreless tie.
"We saw defensive tendencies and I thought that shot might go," said Dale, a second-year starter and co-captain along with Schilder. "My shot actually hit the crossbar and bounced in. I had one from that far last year in our first game."
Two minutes later, Kiffney made it 2-0 with a header from the right-side 5-yard line off a pin-point pass of about 20 yards from Dale.
Taft finished with five saves, including a kick save against Dale in the final minute.
Both teams are an intriguing blend of experience and youth. Each started five seniors including Bellingham standout Emile Diffley, who teamed with Dale to make a major disruptive difference at midfield along with senior teammate Joel Betancourt-Cruz.
BELLINGHAM 2, SEHOME 0
Scoring: Goal: Brad Dale; time: 50:00; Goal: Conlon Kiffney; assist: Dale; time: 52:00. Shots on goal: Bellingham 12, Sehome 3. Goalkeepers (saves): Bellingham, Auden Schilder (2); Sehome, Izzy Taft (5).