BELLINGHAM - If Sehome coach Andria Fountain keeps her pulse rate normal all season, it might be a minor miracle, not to mention a testament to her mental fitness.
Fountain, bidding for her eighth state tournament berth in as many seasons, still has her team at the top of the Northwest Conference girls' soccer race, but it has been nerve-wracking, indeed.
Sehome's 1-0 win over Bellingham on Tuesday, Oct. 8, at Civic Stadium kept her Mariners (7-2-2 overall, 6-1-0) in the running for the top seed in the Class 2A Northwest District tournament with five-regular season games remaining.
The Red Raiders (4-3-4, 3-2-2), however, still remain well in contention for one of the NWC's four district berths and a chance to face the Mariners again.
Fountain, however, won't have to worry about over-confidence in any game - her team has four wins by one goal, three victories by two goals and two ties, plus a 4-1 loss to Squalicum on Sept. 26.
"I was really impressed with how hard Sehome played," Bellingham coach Mark Wright said. "Our girls all played hard, too. I'm very proud of how hard our girls played. We came out very strong in the first 10 minutes of both halves, but Sehome pushed hard right back."
Sehome senior Marie Kochman, who came in with seven goals in seven different games, found a different way to contribute to a score.
"I crossed (the ball) in to (Andrea Zucchi) off a free kick and Andrea laid it off to Devin (Grahn)," Kochman said of how her two sophomore teammates combined to score on a short power goal in the 34th minute.
Grahn just grinned when asked if that was her biggest goal, since it was the first time she has scored the eventual winner in a one-goal victory.
"That's a yes!" she soon said of both her grin and her goal, which was the talented defender's third score of the season but her first since Sehome's fourth game.
Both teams came in with 22 goals in their first 10 games, and only once had either been shut out (in Bellingham's 4-0 loss to Squalicum on Sept. 28). That was evidence of how consistently competitive both teams are.
Wright readily agreed his team is feisty, but since none of his players have ever beaten the Mariners, he had good reason for saying, "We just have to believe we can beat Sehome."
If the rivals do meet at district, Wright believes a win is a distinct possibility.
"I'm really proud of how we fought. I think we're pretty even," said Wright, who is in his 14th season. "Sehome may get (2012 scoring leader) Emily Webster back by then (from a foot injury)."
Both the Mariners and Red Raiders can boast of eight different scorers, a remarkable figure for teams that came in averaging only 2.2 goals per game.
Both also have solid senior goalkeepers. Sehome's Hannah Lauffer made nine saves, including on all five of the Red Raiders' second-half shots, and Bellingham's Hannah Jacobus made four saves as Red Raider defenders, led by the tough midfielder Hattie North, also limited the Mariners to five second-half attempts on goal.
Fountain, whose team gained its fourth shutout, lauded the pressure produced by senior forward Ashley Mindnich and her twin sisters, junior mids Stefanie and Katie Mindnich.
"Hannah Lauffer played really well in goal and (defensive backline sweeper) Alia Jones also did a great job," Fountain said of two inspirational seniors, both getting their first chance to stand out on defense during this tension-packed season.
The Red Raiders came out looking as though they did believe they could beat Sehome while holding the Mariners without a shot on goal in the first 10 minutes, while Bellingham tried five cracks at the goal.
"We just haven't been finishing well," said Wright, whose team has generally been nails on defense while allowing 16 goals. Sehome has permitted the same stingy number.
SEHOME 1, BELLINGHAM 0
Goal: Devin Grahn; assist: Ashley Zucchi; time: 34. Shots: Bellingham 14, Sehome 10. Goalkeepers (saves): Bellingham: Hannah Jacobus (4); Sehome: Hannah Lauffer (9).