Squalicum's defense is maddening and physical.
The Storm enter their Class 2A state semifinal matchup against Toppenish having not allowed a goal in more than 1,150 consecutive minutes, securing shutouts in 14 consecutive games.
With a laugh, Squalicum Joe McAuliffe said in his time he's never seen anything like it. Not even on his 2008-09 state championship team.
But then again, the team takes on the personality of its coach, and McAuliffe's defensive mindset permeates throughout his entire club.
"Just so much you can't control in soccer," McAuliffe said. "Referees can change. Fouls can happen and fouls cannot happen, and you can still get calls. One thing you can control is your work rate, and that's kind of what defense is - working hard when you don't have the ball and turn it back."
The boys entrusted to protect Squalicum's keeper are center backs Hans Kogan and Spencer Wallace, and outside backs B.J. James and Conner Stevens.
The four will again put the Storm's streak to the test when they face Toppenish at 6 p.m. Friday, May 30, at Sunset Chev Stadium in Sumner, Washington, for a right to play in the Class 2A title game.
KOGAN'S VOICE RESONATES FROM THE BACK
It all starts with the heart and soul, Hans Kogan.
He's the voice guiding midfielders and the other three defenders. He's the one largely burdened with winning headers out of the air, defusing dangerous corners and throw-ins. His physicality, too, sets the tone for McAuliffe's super-athletic backline.
"He's definitely our anchor," McAuliffe said. "His strength and his focus - he's just a real competitor. He's going to scrap for every ball to win it, and the other thing is his control. When he wins the ball, he'll only pound it up if he has to."
The scoreless streak is a moot point to the senior center back. As he said: "If we get scored on, it's not the biggest thing. We're just focusing on the bigger goal, which is the state title."
The Storm have only allowed five goals all season en route to a 19-0-2 record and a district title, but this team, Kogan said, has had its eyes on a state title, and that alone. Everything else was just a mile marker along the road.
To do so, the senior uses his bellowing voice to carry out orders and keep his team organized. Surveying the field is his greatest duty, McAuliffe said, and one he does incredibly well.
"When one of us steps to the ball, there's always a guy right behind him, and once you get beat, you're right back in there to help your buddy," Kogan said. "It's never one guy stepping alone."
STEVENS' PRESENCE WILL BE FELT
Conner Stevens doesn't mind sending a message. The two yellow cards he's received this season equaled the number he's gotten his entire soccer career, although it's a reputation he thinks isn't entirely accurate.
"As much as I get cards sometimes, it's not like I'm going out there trying to hurt somebody," he said. "I'm just trying to get it in there and give a little nudge here and there that will throw them off."
As a converted midfielder, he's got an offensive mindset upon winning the ball. Both he and B.J. James think along the same lines, which is why McAuliffe has the two slotted on the outside. Stevens, in particular, is one he enjoys watching with the ball at his feet.
"He makes some pretty creative runs," McAuliffe said of Stevens. "He can give us that from the other side that is not anticipated by the opponent. They don't see that generating from the back like that."
JAMES' POISE AND SKILL ON DISPLAY
It's hard to hear a word from B.J. James throughout a game - he's quiet by nature.
Another thing you won't see from James? Someone beating him.
"One is his athleticism. He's like a cat. He doesn't lose his balance, and ... he's a bright kid," McAuliffe said. "His judgment on when to commit is terrific. Hardly ever commits too early."
James drew the tough assignment against Hockinson's Mitchell Pinney, who had several hat tricks to his credit, but even the quick forward couldn't break loose from the junior defender's clutches. Of course the Storm backline defended him as a team, but the decision to throw James on Pinney disrupted the Hawks' entire attack, which funneled through the star forward.
In the one time he did get beat, James chased him down and recovered the ball, quickly doing what he does better than any other Squalicum defender: turn defense into offense.
Like Stevens, James has a feel for pushing the ball up field. That was on display in the Storm's opening-round win over Sumner when he hit Quinn Carpenter in the head from 50 yards out for an assist.
"I like to get into the attack," James said. "I have a defensive mindset first, but if I can get into the attack and help out, I will."
He acknowledged that he's not the most physical of defenders like Kogan, Stevens and even Spencer Wallace, but that their nature has rubbed off on him.
"I'll see them go and play physical, and that makes me want to go and do that, as well," he said, "Go hard on tackles."
WALLACE HAS A HEAD FOR THE BALL
Wallace rarely loses when in the air.
He's got the confidence to do so, just like Kogan.
Reach Alex Bigelow at 360-715-2238 or firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-715-2238. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for other Whatcom County sports updates.