Lunde sparks culture change at Meridian

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDDecember 21, 2013 

ANDY BRONSON — The Bellingham Herald

By some force of nature, Meridian's Taylor Lunde had at least one capable leg - a fact she made clear to her coach, Andrea Ames, in a winner-to-state match against University Prep on Nov. 7.

Just five minutes prior to the game going to overtime, Lunde, a senior midfielder for the Trojans, hurt her right ankle and had to leave the game. Ankle troubles have been a regularity for Lunde, but in this case, as the game headed to penalty kicks, she seemed determined to not let her lower-leg woes play a factor in how her senior season would end.

Overtime passed with both teams still scoreless. Ames was finalizing the list of players she was going to have take PKs, and Lunde approached her. The conversation was short.

"She is money in penalty kicks, and she got a little tape and said, 'I'm fine to go in. ... I'm fine to take a kick. I'll use my other foot,'" Ames recalled Lunde saying to her.

Lunde went last, placing the shot in the back of the net and sealing not only the Trojans' second consecutive trip to the Class 1A Girls' Soccer State Championships, but handing two-time state champion University Prep its only loss of the postseason. For that and many other reasons, Lunde, who recorded 19 goals and nine assists, was selected as the All-Whatcom County Girls' Soccer Player of the Year.

Lunde's senior season ended with a loss to Seattle Academy in the state quarterfinals, but the fact remained that as she walked off the turf at Civic Stadium on Nov. 16, she had seen Meridian's program change, and she had been at the forefront of it.

When she arrived her freshman year, offseason workouts were laughable - the culture dictated that success and excellence wasn't of the highest priority, she said. But as tears fell from the girls' faces when their season came to an end, it was obvious to Ames that the tears were from the belief that the team should have made it to the semifinals.

"Because of players like Taylor that they've seen, 'All right, this is what it takes. These are the expectations and this is how it works.' To lose in the quarterfinals, they had hopes of being a trophy team," Ames said. "In hindsight, you're happy you made the top eight ... but in the moment, you know people believe in your program when you're bummed you didn't make the state semifinals."

Lunde battled those same feelings as she saw her senior season and career at Meridian come to an end.

"We didn't make it to the quarterfinals my freshman year. We didn't even make to state," Lunde said. "We made such a difference in our program, (going) to the state quarterfinals two years in a row, and knowing that I was a part of that foundation was nice."

She was the rock both Ames and her teammates could look to. And while the Trojans battled through injury after injury during the season, including the extended losses of Lexi McKinnon (13 goals, five assists) and Haley Belanger (13 goals, six assists), Lunde kept the ship afloat.

"She was never going to quit. You can't coach that," Ames said. "We had a lot of our upperclassmen out in that time of the season, that half-to-end-of-the-regular-season-crunch time, and it was especially important to have her firing on all cylinders."

No more was that the case than against Ferndale on Oct. 15, with both teams jockeying for position nearing the start of the postseason.

With McKinnon and Belanger out, as well as two other players, Ames barely fielded a team before watching watch Lunde catch her surgically-repaired right ankle in a divot midway through the first half. She writhed in pain, exited the game and hobbled her way to the bench. Ten minutes later, she made her way to Ames and re-entered the game and accounted for two second-half goals - one a 25-yard shot with her bad foot - to beat playoff-bound Ferndale 3-1.

"It's one of those things like it's not the ideal situation, but it's a challenge that you have to be able to overcome when you do have key players such as Lexi and Haley both out quite a bit of the season," Lunde said. "It's just a little bump in the road, but at least our team managed to pull it together."

Lunde said she was playing for the girls who couldn't go. The team, too, pulled together knowing that losses notwithstanding, the goal was still not only a trip to state, but a trip past the quarterfinals. Those moments, Lunde acknowledged, where the team rallied together and didn't rely on excuses, are moments she is most proud of. Moments and actions she wanted to pass on to the younger class.

"The upperclassmen, we have to show the underclassmen what the program should be," Lunde said. "I've dedicated so much to the program and the players; I am really going to miss them, especially my freshmen because they came up and stepped up."

Meridian started several freshmen this year, including Lunde's freshman sister, Payton Lunde, and Ames saw no better a person to set an example for the future of the program.

"She just loves playing," Ames said.

Reach Alex Bigelow at alex.bigelow@bellinghamherald.com or call 360-715-2238. Follow bhamsports on Twitter for other Whatcom County sports news.

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