Aside from one early goal in the second half, Squalicum’s defense was the difference for the girls’ soccer team.
In its 2-1 win over Shorecrest in the 2A State Championship game on Saturday, Nov. 22, at Shoreline Stadium, the Storm defense shut down the Scots’ attack and only required goalkeeper Rachel Runnalls to make one save.
As dominating as it proved to be, the makeup of the back line was a little unorthodox for the Storm. After early-season injuries to Payton McNally and Rachel Dorr, Squalicum coach David Kish had to look to a pair of underclassmen for defensive help.
In stepped sophomore Kelly Anderson and freshman Olivia Benner, who were both key on defense in the win.
Anderson marked star Shorecrest forward Sophia Viviano for much of the game. The man-marking wasn’t by design, though.
“Kelly was on that side (where Viviano played),” Kish said. “We didn’t switch up marks, and Kelly handled her perfectly.”
The fact that Anderson typically plays forward didn’t hinder Kish from moving her to outside defensive back when Dorr and McNally went down.
“Attacking and speed,” Kish said is what he looks for in outside backs. “She’s just she has great vision. We need the outside backs to attack, and she has the fitness and speed to attack up the wing.”
The underclassmen might not have had as much success if they hadn’t had have a pair of senior mentors on defense — Michelle Saunders and Jackie Dierdorff.
“Having two veterans back there that understand their positions really ... helped,” Kish said. “Michelle is just a rock back there; she’s a leader, helping everyone out and supporting them. Liv’s job is to pick up their first player, shut down the initial attack, and Michelle is there to pick up the pieces. Having her leadership and strength back there, I think, helped the rest of us, especially with Liv being so new. She knew if she got beat, Michelle was there to help her out.”
The young duo echoed their coach’s appreciation of the help they received from the seniors.
“They were really good at talking in the game and telling us when to mark,” Anderson said. “They were always positive and gave good feedback, so it worked really well.”
“We’re honored to play with such great people, like Michelle and Jackie in the back,” Benner said. “They’re so good, and they really mentored us this season.”
If the pair had a rough start transitioning into starting roles, it didn’t show in the win-loss column for Squalicum, as the Storm completed an undefeated season. A tie with Sehome was the only blemish on their record.
“It was definitely a learning process at the beginning, but I’m proud of how we got right into the groove of playing,” Benner said. “We’re undefeated, so I think it worked out.”
Kish said he knew he might have put Benner in a tough position, expecting a lot of her as a freshman.
“I can’t imagine being a freshman, having to step into a varsity starting role, but Liv has done great,” he said.
Squalicum was able to be methodical and patient on Saturday, waiting for offensive opportunities in the second half. The defense had to be strong as a result, and it was. Shorecrest only got off two shots in the second half, and the only one that was a legitimate threat was off of a free kick.
The stress of defending wasn’t placed solely on the shoulders of the back line, though, as the Storm repeatedly won balls in the middle and attacking thirds.
“There wasn’t a plan for defense,” Kish said. “I remember talking to an official at the Burlington game, and he said, ‘Who’s going to mark Edie (Breckenridge)?’ I said, ‘No one,’ and he was flabbergasted. Our game is we play as a team. All 10 girls play defense.”
Anderson and Benner emphasized that team aspect of Squalicum’s defensive effort.
“We definitely knew their strikers were very tough, so we wanted to make sure everyone was marking the strikers,” Benner said. “Going into the game, we knew how they played, so we were trying to have everyone play defensively.”
“Basically just no shots, don’t let them shoot,” Anderson said.
Even McNally got in on the act Saturday. Her recovery was far enough along that she was able to enter the championship game for a few minutes as time was winding down. She played in the attacking zone, where the Storm were trying to hold possession of the ball to preserve the 2-1 win.