Bellingham girls' soccer coach Mark Wright felt as though he had no choice when it came to an unassuming freshman with braces named Hattie North more than two years ago.
She was aggressive, tenacious and fiery, Wright remembered, and junior varsity was simply no place for her.
"We kind of had a glut of girls at her position, but after about one game it was evident that we were not going to be able to keep her on JV," Wright said in a phone interview. "Ever since her first week of her freshman year, it was pretty clear (varsity) was where she belonged."
Wright could only recount a few girls that he has elevated so quickly to varsity as a freshman. His decision to do so has been proven right time and again as North, now a junior, has developed into the leading voice for the state-bound Red Raiders.
Bellingham will take on Ridgefield High School in the opening round of the Class 2A State Girls' Soccer Tournament at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 12, at Ridgefield.
North remembers stepping on the field for her first varsity match nearly three full seasons ago. It wasn't her performance, though, that she recalls, but the moment itself of looking around Civic Stadium.
"I just remember stepping onto the field with the bright lights shining," North said in a phone interview. "Being at Civic Stadium with all those people, it was really almost too much to take in as a freshman."
Queen's "We Will Rock You" blared over the loudspeakers as she trotted onto the field after halftime, a song that has grown fitting of her time as a Red Raider.
She doesn't claim to be someone who is overly physical, picking and choosing her moments during a match to exert her will, but the black protective wraps she wears on her head speak to something a little different.
"She brings every ounce of herself to the team everyday," Wright said. "Emotionally, physically, mentally - she brings it all every single day. ... Her physicality is something to behold, and hopefully a lot of other kids can learn from it."
North's responsibilities to this team aren't glamorous, Wright said, and she is not often asked to score goals. That being said, Bellingham's struggles this season to score have added to North's need to play an even larger role defensively than she already has.
That's OK, she said, since that's what she likes to do anyway.
"I think I'm always looking forward to pressure that is higher than I could handle," North said. "It kind of pushes the team to take to (fight) harder."
Her task of patrolling the middle of the field for Bellingham often times tasks North with shadowing the opposing team's best forward. That was the case against Archbishop Murphy in the first round of the Class 2A District Girls' Tournament. Fellow junior Mia Hodges had entered the game not at 100 percent, Wright said, dealing with some lingering injuries. Three minutes into the contest, it was clear Hodges was struggling to keep up against the Wildcats top scoring threat.
"Hattie did an unbelievable job shutting her down for the entirety of the game," Wright said. "That's something Hattie does. ... She just has a special determination with how she plays."
That determination has become a staple for North, whom Wright and the other girls look to for leadership. That, North said, has been a role she has grown into since joining varsity as a freshman.
"You need to talk to get the team moving and inspiring everyone else," said North, who takes on that responsibility willingly.
Her vocal presence isn't the most commanding part of her role on the team, though.
"She's never going to let anybody out-work her ... and she has a unique ability to be tough on people without being snotty," Wright said.
North's impact on the team may not be flashy, but it's most easily personified in the way freshman forward Kendra Steele regards her as a leader on the team.
"Steele, our freshman that plays center mid with her, always says that Hattie is her hero," Wright said. "As a coach, you get an opportunity to coach slash stand next to some pretty amazing people, and I would put Hattie on the short list of people that I will never, ever forget coaching, because of what she has meant to me not only as a coach, but as a person."
SOCCER STATE PLAYOFFS FIRST ROUND
Tuesday, Nov. 12
Bellingham at Ridgefield, 6 p.m.
Hockinson at Squalicum (at Civic Stadium), 7 p.m.
Wednesday, Nov. 13
Meridian at Elma (at Stewart Stadium, Aberdeen), 6 p.m.
Reach Alex Bigelow at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2238. Follow on Twitter @bhamsports for other Whatcom County sports news.