Surpassing every hope and expectation doesn't lessen the sting of a state quarterfinal loss for the Bellingham Warriors lacrosse team.
Such is life when competing in a win-or-go-home contest between an equally talented opponent, the Three Rivers Coyotes. But an 8-4 loss Wednesday, May 22, at Whatcom Community College's Orca Field doesn't dampen a season that saw improvement beyond head coach Jarrett Speith's wildest dreams.
"I am just proud of these guys," Speith said moments following the loss. "I am proud of everything they did. Proud of everything they accomplished, and there is that quote by Aristotle, 'We are what we repetitively do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.'"
"These guys are making that change to be repeatedly excellent, striving for that knowing that we are going to make mistakes, knowing we are going to fail, and overcoming those setbacks," Speith said.
While his expectations entering the season were suited more toward a conference title, his team responded by winning all 14 of its games entering the quarterfinal matchup, advancing to a place it had never been before.
But the new arena added an unknown, foreign feeling it hadn't yet confronted: Pressure.
"I think we were scared today, honestly," Ferndale senior Aiden Sands said. "First pressure game of the year, a lot on the line, a lot built up to it."
Speith thought he, too, added to much weight too his players' shoulder before stepping on the field against the undefeated Coyotes.
"I think I built the pressure a bit too high for them," Speith said. "They've never been in this position before, so it's a new experience for most of them, and I think they started pushing the envelope too far, taking a little too many risks. I always tell them to move fast, but don't rush, and I think we rushed a little bit too much tonight."
The Coyotes are equally responsible for mounting the pressure on the Warriors' untested shoulders, scoring the first goal four minutes in off a nifty two-man game between Hollan Brown and Mario Midili. Midili scored, but it was after Brown started from near midfield and beat his defender to the right for the dump off just feet from the net.
The Coyotes added another goal minutes before the end of the first quarter, but Bellingham's Chance Clymer's sweeping move from left to right gained him enough separation from his defender to get a shot off and bring the score to within one at the end of the first half.
While only trailing one, the Warriors rarely saw possession of the ball, and Three Rivers continually maneuvered patiently looking for angles and lanes that never quite materialized.
"Those long possessions wore us out a bit," Speith said. "Our defense - you saw the guy puke when he came off the field - they were giving it everything they got."
Back to back goals by the Coyotes just mere seconds apart in the second quarter moved the score to a 4-1 lead, including a bobbled ball that landed in the opportunistic hands of Zach Mabry. Mabry scored after Warriors goalie Andrew Hoemann overplayed a pass leaving him open in front of an empty net.
But in a move that became almost predictable, the Warriors won the face off and immediately forced the issue with Ferndale's Zachary Morris hitting a cutting Sands who finished the one-on-one opportunity for his first of two goals on the day.
"We always answered back," Speith said. "We kept in it. We kept the fight going."
Three River's never rested on its lead, continually showing a patient, reserved style on offense, wearing down the Warriors and inevitably adding a goal to move up 5-2 in the third.
A goal by Bellingham's Dylan Bruce in traffic just feet in front of the net held the Coyotes within reaching distance, but yet again they answered with a goal to keep the lead three.
While the two teams were a true argument of styles, one being patient and the other wanting to run and be frantic, the Warriors rarely had the opportunity to play their style of game. One such instance occurred immediately following the Coyotes sixth goal when Clymer won the face off, sprinted down the middle of the field and found Sands for a goal that took just seconds off the clock.
"They faked the slide and I went to pass it and they dropped back, so I knew the middle of the field was going to be wide open and I dropped it in," Sands said of the goal.
Three Rivers ended the third by tacking on another goal, moving the lead to three, and a goal midway through the fourth put the contest out of reach, cementing its place in the semifinals while ending the Warriors season.