BELLINGHAM - In reality, there isn't anything free about a free kick in soccer.
First of all, somebody has to sacrifice their body to draw the foul.
And taking a free kick - that's when your mind and opponents tend to get in the way.
"You've got to be calm and not shank it," said Bellingham freshman Kendra Steele, who has become a bit of a specialist for the Red Raiders with a free-kick goal against Squalicum and "two or three" others during her first varsity season.
But none were bigger than the two she put into the net on Thursday, Nov. 7, during a winner-to-state game of the Class 2A Bi-District Girls' Soccer Tournament at Civic Stadium, as Steele helped boost Bellingham to the state playoffs with a 4-2 victory over Burlington-Edison.
With the win, the Red Raiders (9-5-5) not only move on to the tournament's third-place game against Archbishop Murphy at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 9, at Sultan, they also ended the program's seven-year drought from the state playoffs.
"Jared (Fields, an assistant coach with the team) and I were talking, and it's like 'How long it's been?'" Bellingham coach Mark Wright said. "It's awesome to go back."
It's not that Bellingham hasn't had good teams the previous six seasons. In fact they've come close a number of times.
At times earlier this season, it may not have looked like this was the team ready to end that string.
"We were fits and starts all season and kind of had some funky injury stuff," Wright said. "A girl we thought was going to be our forward broke her ankle early. The reality of it is over the last two weeks the girls just kind of said, 'We really want to get there.' I had to make some tough decisions on playing some younger kids, and it seems to kind of gone our way a little bit."
One of those younger kids the Red Raiders have looked to is Steele, who was only in second grade the last time Bellingham went to state.
She was more than happy to lend a hand in getting the Red Raiders back.
"I just went out and played for my teammates," Steele said. "I know the seniors wanted it really bad, so we decided to give all or nothing. ... The first thing Cashel (Vincent) said to me was 'Guess what? We're going to state!'"
Bellingham certainly came out playing like it wanted nothing more, dominating play throughout the first 30 minutes.
The Red Raiders lived in the Tigers' zone, repeatedly mounting an attack. Burlington wasn't able to make its first serious foray into Bellingham's end of the field through the first 24 minutes and didn't get off its first shot until only 9:30 remained on the first-half clock.
But for all its dominance, Bellingham wasn't able to find the scoreboard.
But that all changed when the Red Raiders drew a foul in the 32nd minute and got to set Steele up from 33 yards out.
"I saw that the line was a little bit off and the goalie was shifted out wide, so I just kind of went on the inside," Steele said of her shot, which found the lower left corner of the Tigers' net.
That goal was a reward for all of Bellingham's early dominance, especially after the two teams played to a 0-0 tie in their Oct. 22 Northwest Conference meeting.
"We played Burlington earlier this season, and we felt we were the aggressor all night - we had them all night," Wright said. "They're young and hungry. We felt if we came at them right away and tried to overwhelm them with our speed and tenacity, we thought we could get on them a little bit. We didn't score early, but we pushed and pushed and pushed, and when we got that first goal, it was like now we can go."
And go Bellingham did.
A little more than five minutes later, Vincent scored off an assist from Michaela Knutson to put the Red Raiders up 2-0 at the half.
It took Brooke Baker only 14 seconds after the break to put Bellingham up 3-0 following a beautiful crossing pass from Mary Dyrland.
But the Tigers didn't go away quietly, as Nicole DeBoer scored in the 52nd minute, and Edie Breckenridge made it a two-goal game in the 65th.
"Burlington came back and kind of freaked us out," Wright said.
But there was little to worry about when Bellingham drew another foul in the middle of the field at the 25-yard line and once again sent Steele up to take the free kick.
"I was thinking I really need to make this one, or they're still in this game," Steele said.
With the help of a ricochet off a player in front of the goal, Steele took most of the doubt out of the final 9:29.
Steele actually almost had a hat trick on free kicks, but reserve Burlington goalie Jacki Smith grabbed another nice boot with 6:50 to play. Though Smith's feet came down in the goal, the ball was ruled not to have gone in.
But with its stingy defense, Bellingham had more than enough to punch its ticket to state.
And another freshman was in the middle of that effort.
"Our middle backer girl, Alice Hiebert - Kendra scored some goals, but Alice Hiebert gets us those wins," Wright said. "I thought our defensive group did really well, and Alice was a huge part of that."
Reach David Rasbach at email@example.com or 360-715-2286.
BELLINGHAM 4, BURLINGTON-EDISON 0
Goal: Kendra Steele (Bellingham), 31:54. Goal: Cashel Vincent (Bellingham), assist: Michaela Knutson, 37:13. Goal: Brooke Baker (Bellingham), assist: Mary Dyrland, 40:14. Goal: Nicole DeBoer (Burlington-Edison), 51:40. Goal: Edie Breckenridge, assist: Megan Wilburg, 64:10. Goal: Kendra Steele (Bellingham), 70:31. Shots on goal: Bellingham 10, Burlington-Edison 6. Goalies (saves): Bellingham Hannah Jacobs (4); Burlington-Edison Kioko Soneda (2) and Jacki Smith (4).
Reach DAVID RASBACH at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2271.