Slater more than ready for final season

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDSeptember 13, 2013 

Squalicum's Gracie Slater (9) cuts through the Fife defense as Squalicum beat Fife 6-0 in the first round of the 2A state soccer playoffs at Civic Stadium on Tuesday Nov. 6, 2012 in Bellingham.

ANDY BRONSON — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

Gracie Slater prefers to go unnoticed on the soccer field.

She's the type who draws more enjoyment from setting up a goal than scoring one. It was evident last year, leading the fourth best team in Class 2A with 11 assists.

Fifteen different Storm players scored goals last year. Seven were underclassmen. That's a lot of playing styles to understand.

"One of the things I do is always take mental notes on how they play," Slater said. "Everyone is different. You just learn how they play and go with it, because if you're playing in the center, everyone is surrounding you. I've never been much of a scorer, but I like to help the team out."

The first thing Squalicum coach David Kish noticed about Slater her freshman year? Her now-you-see-me, now-you-don't Houdini-esque flare with the ball.

"I had no idea who this girl was," said Kish of seeing Slater for the first time as a freshman. "The best thing about her is that she has some of the sweetest moves. It's entertaining to watch, because she'll literally fake a player out and leave them five feet in the other direction before she realized, 'Gracie turned you,' and she is off to the races."

Kish even compared his senior attacker to Magic Johnson. "She looks one way, the ball goes the other way. The next thing you know someone else is scoring."

Marking Slater is a challenge. Opponents have grown accustom to losing track of the Storm senior. But even an under-the-radar player such as Slater couldn't escape the spotlight during the most pressure-packed moment of her prep career nine months ago.

Squalicum, which had never reached the state tournament semifinals in school history, let alone the state playoffs during the previous nine years, was left with a chance to play for a state title after the Storm battled undefeated Sumner to a draw in regulation and overtime.

Squalicum owned a one-shot advantage following three successful attempts and a miss from Sumner. Then misfortune struck.

A miss by senior captain Lauren Wallace and a make by Sumner left the fate of the Storm's season hinging on Slater - the last Squalicum player selected by Kish to take a penalty kick.

"I was just trying to stay calm, because Kish had us practice PK's every single practice," Slater said. "You have the mentality of, 'I can do this. I've done this so many times before,' but you're under so much pressure. You're so nervous. It was just too bad."

Slater blasted her PK to the left of the Sumner goalie but not far enough to get past the keeper's outstretched arms.

Squalicum lost in heartbreaking fashion.

"After I was very upset with myself," Slater said. "Like, extremely so, but I remember my mom saying later that evening, she was like, 'An hour and then you're done.' So I gave myself an hour and I was done, and it was on to the next day. But obviously that was extremely hard."

The memory still exists in Slater's mind. Even Kish admitted he's revisited the moment again and again. Still, he wouldn't change a thing.

"If you would see her against my goalie coach in practice, who is playing for (WSA Rapids), she was just scoring on him every time," Kish said. "She was faking him out. He said, 'I can't read which way she is going. I can't stop her shot. Even if I know where she is going, I can't stop her shot,' So she was on, but then again now you are on a big stage. I relived it for a while, but you move on. It's not the last chance for her."

And what a great final opportunity Slater has.

She called Squalicum soccer "the highlight" of high school, and admittedly gets a little depressed during winter between the time prep soccer ends and club soccer begins. Odds are no Storm player is more excited to get the season underway, especially given how last year's bid for a state title ended.

Unlike last season, when earning a state berth seemed a distant dream, reaching the state field of 16 is now more of an expectation.

"It's true, we talk about state before practice, after practice," Slater said. "It's always on our minds, but we know we still have to do everything we did last year to get there."

There's still history to be made, Kish pointed out, despite winning a 2012 Northwest District title and reaching the state semis. The school is yet to win a conference title or the ultimate prize - a state championship.

Squalicum graduated All-NWC players Lauren Wallace and Andrea DeVere, but the majority of the team is in tact. The young talent, which spurred a portion of last year's success, is a year older, and it's difficult to find a glaring hole within Squalicum's roster.

Slater plans on being the same pass-first, selfless player she's been throughout her career, although now a senior, she wants to adopt a leadership role with fellow classmen Lizzy Herda and Lauren Gibb. Team unity derived from DeVere and Wallace carried the Storm on its run last year, Kish said. He's hoping his seniors can do the same this time around.

"Being a captain, I feel like it's my duty to make it a great season," Slater said.

Now she gets her second chance, an opportunity to put the past away for good and end the season on a much sweeter note.

Reach Andrew Lang at andrew.lang@bellinghamherald.com or call 360-756-2862.

Reach ANDREW LANG at andrew.lang@bellinghamherald.com or call ext. 862.

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