SHORELINE - Defenders don't often get much credit in a soccer game, but Emma Brice is hard to miss.
The unheralded defender was a huge part of Bellingham's run to the Class 2A state championship game.
Brice was tasked with shadowing some of the best players in the state this season and turned it into a work of art.
"My approach to every game is just to believe I can keep them in front of me," Brice said. "It's a mental task. I just know nothing gets by me. I am an aggressive player, but I try not to be dirty."
Brice's style is to be physical with forwards. She fights for every ball and doesn't make it easy for any forward.
Her impact was obvious against Squalicum's Kim Hazlett in the semifinal. Hazlett was frustrated, as Brice was all over her all game long.
"She played Hazlett tremendously," Red Raiders coach Mark Wright said. "Nobody on our team has as much desire to stop Hazlett."
Although her toughest plays came against Squalicum, her best play with Bellingham trailing Sumner 2-0 2A title game on Saturday, Nov. 23, at Shoreline Stadium.
With the Trojans' Brooke Lancaster breaking up the field and only one player to beat, it looked like it might turn into a 3-0 game in just moments.
But Brice put a stop to the attack immediately, tackling Lancaster 25 yards out and winning the ball.
Brice isn't the biggest player on any field -- her size is not typical for a player who plays as physical as she does -- but Brice is starting to gain recognition as one of the toughest players anytime she steps on the field.
"When you look at her, you aren't intimidated," Wright said. "But she won't back down."
For the Red Raiders, she's everything they could have wished for, and she just joined the team this season, her junior year.
Brice was on the swim team the past two years. This year, somebody told Wright there was a player interested in joining the team.
"I met with her for the first time in the hallway," Wright said. "She was this unsung player. She came out of nowhere."
Brice quickly turned into a player Wright won't soon forget.
"She not only played great the last two days, but for the entire season," Wright said.
Brice also earned the sportsmanship award at the end of Saturday's game, and Wright said she earned it.
"She's a wonderful person," Wright said. "She's selfless, and she's a great teammate. She's everything a coach could ask for."
For Brice, the award was an honor, but she's just happy for the second-place finish.
"It's the first time in a long time Bellingham has made it to state," Brice said. "I gave everything I had. It's rewarding to receive the award. The defense doesn't get recognized very often."
For the Red Raiders, who hadn't made the state tournament since 2006, the miracle run was great. But their goal is to win state next season, and Brice will likely be leading the way.
Reach Joshua Hart a firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2271.