Sehome senior Stephanie Mindnich scored the most important goal of her soccer career exactly as coach Andria Fountain has taught her.
With her team’s season at stake and seven minutes to play, Mindnich found herself in position to make a quick decision from her right side. But she also discovered she had the precious seconds she needed to focus on a careful shot.
The result was a goal in the 74th minute, breaking a tense scoreless tie against Bellingham in a winner-to-state, loser-out game of the Class 2A Northwest District Tournament.
Three minutes later, Mindnich scored on a breakaway, clinching Sehome’s 2-0 victory in a classic defensive matchup on Thursday, Nov. 6, at Civic Stadium between the state tournament runners-up in 2013 (Bellingham) and 2012 (Sehome).
“I saw the goalie was out (challenging the play) and the net was open,” said Mindnich, who turned in her first two-goal game of the season, with assists on both goals by junior Lyla Pagnotta.
“I was really focused on the play,” said Mindnich, one of Sehome’s three senior starters. “I didn’t think about passing.”
Fountain, headed for her seventh state tournament in nine seasons coaching the Mariners (11-4-3), had one of her greatest thrills — seeing a player do everything right at exactly the right time.
“Stephanie has sometimes been a little frustrated and she’s overly critical of herself,” said Fountain. “This is only her second season as a forward and I’ve had to work on her to take shots, because she’s so unselfish. She made the right call, the way I coach her — to go low (with the ball staying on the turf) and into the opposite side of the goal. These are the hardest shots to stop.”
Fountain and Bellingham coach Mark Wright expressed great pride in their young goalkeepers, both in their first seasons as starters.
Sehome sophomore Nicole Carlson made two crucial saves in the first 20 minutes and finished with six saves, with three in each half. Bellingham junior Chloe Campbell had two saves in the last two minutes of the first half and finished with three as the Red Raiders (11-7-1) held Sehome without a second-half shot until Mindnich’s goal 33 minutes into the second half.
“This morning I discovered my teeth were really sore because I had clenched them all night in my sleep,” said Carlson, whose back line of junior Bryce Sherif and sophomores Maddy Hooker and Ilana Pechthalt led the defensive charge for the Mariners, who have given up only 26 goals in 18 games.
“Our defense was definitely at its best,” said Carlson. “This is the best feeling. Both teams played really well, definitely aggressive but clean.”
Wright praised both goalies, noting that Campbell “just improved tremendously all season (as Bellingham finished with only 24 goals allowed in 19 games including seven shutouts). That shot (Mindnich’s first goal) was just the perfect shot at the perfect time.”
Likewise, Wright gave Carlson full credit for an outstanding effort.
“She (Carlson) made two great early saves on headers by Brooke Baker (a junior who led Bellingham with 15 goals),” Wright said. “If we score on either shot, it’s a different game. Credit to the goalie for the saves and to Brooke for making the shots.”
Sehome will face Burlington-Edison — a 1-0 winner over Archbishop Murphy in the other winner-to-state game — for third place in the district on Saturday, Nov. 8, at 4 p.m. at Shoreline Stadium. The Mariners’ state tournament opener on the road will be early next week, with day, time, opponent and site to be determined.
Bellingham, which went 0-5 to open the season, remarkably went 11-0-1 in its next 12 games, including a 1-0 win over Archbishop in a district opener. The Red Raiders fell to undefeated Squalicum 2-0 on Tuesday, Nov. 4, in the championship semifinals.
It was the second consecutive loser-out game for Sehome. The Mariners rebounded from a 1-0 loss to Shorecrest in a district opener and beat Archbishop Murphy 2-1.
Considering how young the Mariners are, their defensive performance against Bellingham was exceptional. Mindnich’s twin sister Katie Mindnich, starting midfielder Brittney Norris and forward Kate Peterson are Sehome’s only seniors.
Along with those already mentioned, Sehome’s other younger standouts included juniors Devin Grahn, Abby Webster and Andrea Zucchi along with sophomores Fiona Dawson and Christina Funk, all of whom made significant contributions against Bellingham.
“I’m excited for Sehome and Squalicum,” said Wright, who loses standout senior midfielders Hattie North and Mia Hodges, along with regular senior defender Emma Brice, starting senior midfielder Sydney Wright and valuable senior reserve Mariah Miller, along with two other seniors, Sophia Smith and Haley Nichols.
“It would be great for the city of Bellingham if Sehome and Squalicum could meet for the championship,” said Wright, who is looking forward to working next season with young talent such as freshman striker Peyton Schwinger, junior defender Kylie Clark, sophomore striker Morgan Jones, junior defender Paige McAtee and sophomore defender Alice Hiebert.
Sehome 2, Bellingham 0