Bellingham and Squalicum are throwing everything away. All the preconceived notions. Their two previous games this season. Their seeds and rankings - all of it.
None of it will mean anything when the two step on the field in the semifinals of the Class 2A State Girls' Soccer Championships at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 22, at Shoreline Stadium in Shoreline with a trip to the state title game weighing in the balance.
The Storm (17-2-2) had one goal since the onset of the season: win a state championship. Nothing about that changed when Bellingham secured its spot opposite Squalicum in the semifinals.
"You can put whoever you want in front of us. It's not going to stop us," Squalicum coach David Kish said. "Yes, we want to beat Bellingham, but it doesn't matter who that is. That's not our motivation. Our motivation is to play whoever you put in front of us, we want to beat them."
The Storm advanced to the state semifinals by defeating Hockinson in the first round 1-0, and Fife in the quarterfinals, 3-0. The Red Raiders' ascension to being within one game of the state finals has been a little more tumultuous.
After falling down 3-1 to Ridgefield in the first round, Bellingham (12-6-5) rallied behind goals from Brooke Baker, Mia Hodges and Mary Dyrland in the final 20 minutes to stage the comeback and advance to a third meeting with Archbishop Murphy. The Wildcats had defeated Bellingham twice already, but a goal by Baker was all the Red Raiders would need to secure a spot in the semis against the Northwest Conference league champion Storm.
Based purely on seedings, Bellingham has no business being in the final four teams at state and it knows it after finishing seventh in the NWC this year.
"I like coming in as the underdogs, personally. I think our whole team does because no one expects us to be here," said junior midfielder Mia Hodges.
Hattie North, who plays opposite Hodges in the midfield, echoed Hodges' statement, but with a caveat: "Looking at all the other schools in the finals, we probably overall have the least amount of skill than everyone. But we're fired up. (Squalicum) has a lot to lose losing to us, but we have nothing to lose."
Destiny, or so it looks, seems to be favoring the Red Raiders, and Squalicum is paying a great level of respect to a team it has beaten and tied thus far this season.
"They've come out and proved everyone wrong when everyone thought they would lose," said Storm sophomore forward Kim Hazlett. "They have done some magical things."
Bellingham's win against Archbishop Murphy was far from magical, though. The Wildcats presented problems for the Red Raiders twice earlier, blanking them in the first round of districts and in the consolation finals 1-0. In their state quarterfinals match, the game had little to do with skill, North said, which played right in to Bellingham's hand.
"We just wanted it more than everyone else on their team," North said.
PLAYING STORM SOCCER
Squalicum is no place new, and certainly no place unexpected.
The Storm advanced to the state semifinals last year, losing to Sumner 1-0 in penalty kicks, its performance added some pressure to a team that already eyed a return to the final four.
"For all of us, there are huge expectations after going to state last year," Kish said. "I think sometimes when things aren't going well, it can be a little hard."
Some of that pressure, or at least some of those nerves, came out in the Storm's 1-0 opening-round win against Hockinson. As one might expect, though, those nerves dissipated once the Fife game came around.
"The first game is always kind of the toughest," Hazlett said, "and by the time we got to the second game, we knew what we needed to do. We really started connecting as a team, and we would have moments where we were passing right around them."
It was a welcome return to form for the Storm, which had struggled to score goals in their previous two games before hanging three goals against Fife.
Even in the district championship, Squalicum fell to Lake Washington 1-0 in penalty kicks. That loss, said senior team captain Lauren Gibb, was a wake-up call.
"I think that game helped us more than hurt us," Gibb said. "I think it gave us a little bit of a chip on the shoulder just to push us an extra bit."
Nothing is left to the imagination when it comes to how these two teams believe the other is going to play.
"They are going to try to outplay us physically," Gibb said.
Hodges added: "All around the field, our team is always physical."
Squalicum is paying considerable mind to the fact that Bellingham is going to try to dictate the pace, disrupting the Storm's rhythmic offense. Sophomore defender Rachel Dorr believes that's where this game will be won and lost.
"I feel like the thing that is going to throw us off, if anything, is going to be the psychological aspect of the game. Not focusing on our game as much as theirs," Rachel Dorr said. "We're just going to keep playing our game, (passing) it around them so they don't even get those opportunities."
Bellingham coach Mark Wright doesn't lie to himself or his team. He knows the Storm are probably more skilled top to bottom, which showed in Squalicum's 4-0 win in the early part of the regular season. With that said, though, the Red Raiders made adjustments and tied Squalicum 1-1 in the teams' second meeting.
"We can't let them play pretty," Wright said. "If they play pretty, they'll beat us. And if we allow them to play pretty, it will be a game we are always chasing, so we are going to try and dictate a lot of how the flow of the game goes."
Squalicum boasts a pair of forwards in Hazlett and Kim Dorr that have scored a combined 38 goals between the two, leading an attack that is as flashy as it is explosive. Bellingham, on the other hand, finds ways to score in less impressive ways.
"We're not scoring goals that are ridiculous. It's simple goals," North said. "We just try to pass around everyone. ... Just settling the ball down, playing to fee, and every time that's happened, it's come through for us."
But aside from all the conjecture, the rivalry and the early-season meetings, only one thing is going to dictate the outcome of this game.
"This is soccer. You have to come out and play the best game, and if you don't do that, you will not be successful," Gibb said. "I think that is the only thing that matters at this point. We are the top four teams in state, and anything can happen."
KEYS FOR BELLINGHAM
LUCKY NUMBER THREE
The Red Raiders have found success of late when they face a team for the third time. Against Sehome, a team Bellingham had not defeated for the better part of six years, Bellingham lost its first matchup in the regular season, tied the second and inevitably beat the Mariners in a loser-out game in districts. The same was the case against Archbishop Murphy, which beat the Red Raiders twice in the playoffs before Bellingham beat the Wildcats 1-0 in the quarterfinals of the state tournament. The Red Raiders are hoping a similar outcome will come against Squalicum, which defeated and tied with Bellingham during the regular season.
CAN THE OFFENSE PRODUCE?
Bellinghams offense has been hit or miss to say the least. And while finding goals has been a struggle for the Red Raiders for much of the season, now they face a Squalicum team that has only allowed 11 goals in 21 games this season. Brooke Baker has provided the team some late-season punch after missing part of the year, and it was her goal that lifted Bellingham over Archbishop Murphy in the quarterfinals. Cashel Vincent, too, with her nine goals, looks to initiate the offense against a stingy Storm defense.
PHYSICAL BY NATURE
Bellinghams Mia Hodges and Hattie North admitted that their team probably isnt as talented as Squalicums. With that said, the two junior midfielders also acknowledged their willingness to fight for balls, something that is going to be important in keeping Squalicums talented front line of Kim Hazlett and Kim Dorr from getting too many good looks on goal. The two have combined for 38 goals this season alone, and the duo of Hodges and North said they have to do a better job of possessing 50-50 balls if they want to win.
KEYS FOR SQUALICUM
CAN THE STORM STAY HOT ON OFFENSE
In the district finals against Lake Washington, Squalicum couldnt muster a goal and fell in penalty kicks. In the Storms opening-round of state against Hockinson, a 35-yard shot from Jackie Dierdorff was the lone goal. Finally, though, against Fife, Squalicum broke out for three goals in a convincing win. Storm coach David Kish said after the win against Hockinson that he thought the goals would take a flood-gate like swing once the first one went. Well see if thats the case against Bellingham Friday.
WILL THE STORMS EXPERIENCE PAY OFF
Squalicums run to the final four last season may have ended in disappointment, losing to Sumner in penalty kicks, but that experience is something both Kish and his team are going to rely on come Friday. And despite the team starting several sophomores, including Hazlett and the Dorr sisters, all of them played a significant role on last years squad that made it to state for the first time in 10 years. Senior keeper Lauren Eckert also figures to play a significant role if the game does get decided by penalty kicks, a position she was in last year against Sumner and earlier in the Storms playoff run against Lake Washington.
CAN STORM CONTROL TEMPO
Squalicum knows what Bellingham is going to try to do: play physical and force the Storm away from its methodical, passing-and-controlling style game. Kish preaches always passing the ball with an intention, whether between defenders and midfielders or midfielders to forwards, and Bellingham is aware of that. The Red Raiders coach, Mark Wright, even went as far as to say that if his team allows Squalicum to play pretty, Bellingham wont have a chance. One of the main reasons the Storm have found success with that clean style of play is because the three senior midfielders Lauren Gibb, Lizzy Herda and Gracie Slater whom also are the three team captains. Theyve done a good job controlling tempo and initiating the offense, Kish said, and if that trend can continue, Squalicum may be looking at a chance to play for the state championship.