Everson is a quiet, calm town harboring a thunderous talent in Tori VandeHoef.
The senior Nooksack Valley forward for the girls’ soccer team presents herself in a manner reminiscent to that of her humble surroundings — reserved and soft spoken. Nothing about her reeks of the talent she possesses.
She doesn’t need to say much, though, as nearly every coach in the Northwest Conference has raved about this girl up somewhere north in a small town at an even smaller high school mercilessly victimizing defenses.
Lynden Christian coach Brent De Ruyter knows that better than anyone, signing her praise on one hand, painfully recapping the five goals she’s scored against his defense this season on another.
Never miss a local story.
She’s unstoppable, some are led to believe, 25 goals this season standing as an even greater accomplishment given the bevy of defenders that patrol her every step every single second of every single match.
“It gets really frustrating. Most of the time I can’t even get the ball or get a pass off,” VandeHoef said. “It’s just really, really frustrating.”
There’s no escaping it for her, VandeHoef’s Whatcom Rangers FC coach Drew Smiley explained, with such talent being impossible to ignore.
“She’s one of those on the team, when she decides to turn it on, she can change the game,” Smiley said in a phone interview.
And she has, numerous times.
A text message chimed on Smiley’s phone on Sept. 18, a good friend of his who refereed a match up between Nooksack and Burlington-Edison writing, “Burlington-Edison 11, Tori VandeHoef 4”.
That’s not the only time she’s done that.
On Thursday, Oct. 23, the senior scored all four of the Pioneers’ goals against Blaine in a 4-4 tie. She’s responsible for 25 of the team’s’ 29 total goals, recording 10 over her past four games.
For as one-dimensional as the Pioneers’ offense has been, nobody can solve the puzzle that is VandeHoef. You only hear second-hand of her heroics or remarkable goals, wondering just how it’s possible given the amount of attention she receives by opposing defenses.
And yet somehow she’s continued to score at an alarming pace, as if nobody knows of her existence — like she’s a myth tucked away and only spoken of in deaf tones.
Valentin Villalobos has grown accustomed to seeing her unique skillset on a daily basis.
“I don’t know if one-on-one anybody can stop her,” he said. “She has given hope to our players.”
VandeHoef began young in Everson’s rec leagues. At 12, she ventured off to the Whatcom Rangers FC program, making the B squad after initially trying out. It took less than a full season, she said, before she was elevated to the gold team — the premier talents of that age group.
Joining her were the likes of Bellingham standouts Hattie North and Mia Hodges, Ferndale all-league players Jordin Bartel and Carly Bannerman and Squalicum stars Michelle Saunders, Julia DeVere and Sarah Byron.
They were all destined to join high school programs that expected excellence in the form of victories.
VandeHoef’s path to Nooksack Valley came with a different set of expectations and a greater appreciation for patience.
“I’ve played for Nooksack for four years, so I’m definitely used to losing,” she said, Nooksack owning a 2-56-5 record since her freshman year. “In the beginning years, I would get really frustrated. By this year, I just know I’m going to have fun with the girls … and I’m not going to get upset or mad at them. I have pride playing for Nooksack. I wouldn’t pick any other team to play on.”
Her selflessness has elevated Nooksack’s program, Villalobos said, despite little tangible proof in terms of wins.
For all that she is, Smiley said, VandeHoef isn’t without her faults or complexities.
Smiley has coached her the past three years, and nobody, he explained, has tested his patience more than a girl who has 40 combined goals over her past two seasons at Nooksack Valley.
But not in a way many would think. She’s not divisive or disruptive, but more perplexing in the way she plays.
He remembered back to last year when he started VandeHoef in game against the Washington Rush, one of the premier girls’ soccer programs in the state. In the first half, she was nonexistent — something he had grown to see every now and again.
He fought with himself, wondering whether it was best to pull her going into the second half. He chose against that school of thought, affording his talented striker another chance.
She didn’t disappoint.
“The first three touches of the ball, and she beat four players and she got two crosses and a goal,” he said. “You don’t know when and if it’s going to happen. She’s so good you feel guilty if you pull her off the field. There are so many times it looks like there’s no chance she is going to get it going, and then she dribbles past five people. It’s like being at a casino gambling on her.”
Many collegiate programs have inquired about VandeHoef. She’s destined for a leap out of Everson, although, as she explained, she’s just waiting for the right opportunity — the right school to gamble on her talents.