High School Soccer

Despite taking on a more defensive role, Steele can still find back of the net

Squalicum’s Kendra Steele slide tackles Bellingham’s Jillian Langei on Sept. 20 at Civic Stadium in Bellingham. Steele has been selected The Bellingham Herald’s All-Whatcom County Girls Soccer Player of the Year.
Squalicum’s Kendra Steele slide tackles Bellingham’s Jillian Langei on Sept. 20 at Civic Stadium in Bellingham. Steele has been selected The Bellingham Herald’s All-Whatcom County Girls Soccer Player of the Year. eabell@bhamherald.com

It wasn’t surprising when first-year Squalicum girls soccer coach Jose Rodriguez came to senior Kendra Steele before the start of the season and asked her to move from an attacking midfield role to play more of a holding midfielder.

“I’ve played a bunch of different positions,” Steele said. “Attacking mid is one of my favorites, but for club I play center back, and that’s probably what I’ll play for college and what I was recruited to play in college.”

Steele got a chance to showcase her defensive abilities in the new position, as either she or fellow holding midfielder Catelyn Stevenson held back, rather than joining the offensive attack, to thwart opponents’ counterattacks.

“She’s really tough in the midfield,” Rodriguez said. “You never see somebody win the ball in the air against her. She just has that determination and that grit. ... It’s not just about getting there with her, but winning the ball and starting the attack. She really helped us minimize the other teams’ scoring chances.”

With that sort of ability, it’s no wonder Rodriguez asked Steele – a player he called “a coach on the field” – to take on the new role.

What was a surprise is that the move didn’t limit Steele’s scoring chances, or at least her offensive production. Despite joining the offensive attack only about half the time, Steele finished with 16 goals and seven assists.

She was selected the Northwest Conference’s Offensive MVP by the league’s coaches, and she can now add The Bellingham Herald’s All-Whatcom County Girls Soccer Player of the Year to her impressive list of accolades.

“This was the funnest year I’ve played,” Steele said. “Our team chemistry was awesome. The team got along really well, and it was all about having fun. We might not have gotten as far as Squalicum has in the past, but it was still my favorite year.”

That’s saying quite a bit, as Steele played a vital role in Squalicum’s run to a Class 2A state title in 2015. She also played her freshman season for a Bellingham squad that beat the Storm in the state semifinals two years earlier, before her family moved across town.

Though Steele said she “loved” playing for coach Mark Wright and the Red Raiders – and Wright reciprocated, saying he “would have loved to have had her playing for us all four years” – it didn’t take Steele long to assimilate with her new team.

“She has this fierce competitor attitude about her,” Rodriguez said. “That’s what makes her great and drives her on the field. But as a person, she is very kind and looks forward to developing relationships with her teammates. She fit right in with everyone on the team.”

It was a trait that helped Steele become a strong senior leader for the Storm this year, a role she said she thoroughly enjoyed.

Those traits should also help Steele adapt to playing NCAA Division I soccer next year for the University of Portland, where she’ll play alongside former Storm teammate Kim Hazlett.

Steele, an outstanding student who helped Squalicum win a Class 3A academic state title this fall, committed to the Pilots the summer before her junior year, selecting it over Harvard, Georgetown, Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount. She can’t sign her national letter of intent until February.

“Portland has really good academics, as well,” Steele said. “It’s a prestigious school, even if it doesn’t have the name. Good academics was important to me.”

Though Steele said she’s undecided about a major, she’s considering a career in either the medical or legal fields.

“I’m really excited to play for Portland,” Steele said. “I’m ready to work my heart out and play for my teammates. I’m excited for the intensity of D-I sports and being able to play alongside teammates for four years.”

It’s that sort of attitude that made Steele so valuable to the Storm this fall.

“She’s such a competitive person, so talented and so strong on the field, the one thing that gets overlooked is what a kind, gentle and humble a person she is and how intelligent she is in the classroom,” Rodriguez said. “That plays a big part in who she is as a player and a person.”

All-Whatcom County Girls Soccer Players of the Year

2005: Molly Shannon, Bellingham

2006: Molly Shannon, Bellingham

2007: Mari Tarleton, Sehome

2008: Tanya Haggen, Sehome

2009: Kaytlyn Steele, Ferndale

2010: Jessica Bertucci, Sehome

2011: Coryn Bajema, Lynden Christian

2012: Rachel Albert, Sehome

2013: Taylor Lunde, Meridian

2014: Kim Hazlett, Squalicum

2015: Kim Hazlett, Squalicum

2016: Kendra Steele, Squalicum

2016 All-Whatcom County Girls Soccer team

Player

School

Yr.

Pos.

Jazzy Ahrens

Ferndale

Sr.

F

Second-team All-NWC selection ... Helped Ferndale reach the Class 3A Northwest District Tournament ... Offensive-minded player who played on the left side and served as a captain ... Finished with eight goals and five assists, including a number of big goals for the Golden Eagles.

Olivia Benner

Squalicum

Jr.

D

First-team All-NWC selection ... Helped Squalicum win the NWC title and advance to the Class 3A Northwest District Tournament ... One of the toughest defenders in the NWC who was usually tasked with marking the most dangerous forwards ... Determined player who always gave full effort.

Eden Fawcett

Bellingham

So.

D

Second-team All-NWC selection ... Helped Bellingham advance within one win of reaching the Class 2A state playoffs ... Has incredible work ethic and lives, eats, sleeps soccer ... Took most of Bellingham’s free kicks and scored six goals and seven assists ... Strong ability to win the ball.

Payton Fowler

Squalicum

Sr.

F

First-team All-NWC selection ... Helped Squalicum win the NWC title and advance to the Class 3A Northwest District Tournament ... A finisher who has a knack for being around the goal and putting herself in the right position to put her team on the board ... Led Storm with 17 goals and had three assists.

Peyton Fullner

Lynden

Sr.

M

First-team All-NWC selection ... Helped Lynden reach the Class 2A state playoffs for the first time since 1992 ... Reached double digits for third consecutive year with 12 goals ... Added 15 assists ... Team captain had the ball at her feet a lot during the season ... Signed to play for Central Washington.

Christina Funk

Sehome

Sr.

M

Second-team All-NWC selection ... Helped Sehome advance to the Class 2A bi-district tournament ... Solid, intimidating presence in the middle of the field with good size and ability to get good air on headers ... A workhorse who anchored the team ... Recorded five goals and six assists.

Sydney Gospodinovich

Meridian

Sr.

G

Selected All-NWC Defensive MVP ... Helped Meridian advanced to the Class 1A state quarterfinals ... Became more aggressive in the box and attacking out of the box as a senior, which helped her make a number of more saves ... Allowed about a goal per game and seven shutouts, including one in the first round of the state playoffs.

Kayla Heidenreich

Bellingham

Sr.

M

First-team All-NWC selection ... Helped Bellingham advance within one win of reaching the Class 2A state playoffs ... Scored a team-high 18 goals as a forward and outside mid .. Incredible ability to take people off the dribble and finish in traffic.

Libby Hielkema

Lynden Christian

So.

M

First-team All-NWC selection ... Helped Lynden Christian advance to within one win of reaching the Class 1A state playoffs ... LC’s top playmaker and distributor, despite being the focus of most opponents’ defenses ... Managed 15 goals and 12 assists ... Very coachable and driven.

Maddy Hooker

Sehome

Sr.

D

First-team All-NWC selection ... Helped Sehome advance to the Class 2A bi-district tournament ... Has good speed and was usually tasked with marking an opponent’s top offensive threat ... A big part of a Mariners defense that posted nine shuouts and allowed only 19 goals.

Payton Lunde

Meridian

Sr.

F

Second-team All-NWC selection ... Helped Meridian advance to the Class 1A state quarterfinals ... An all-state track performer, who mixed great speed with skill and was a strong leader with her confidence and consistency ... Led the Trojans with 16 goals and 10 assists.

Alex McBeath

Ferndale

Jr.

D

First-team All-NWC selection ... Helped Ferndale reach the Class 3A Northwest District Tournament ... A relentless, positive defender that never gave up and did everything for the benefit of the team ... Voted a team captain and led by example, only coming out of one game ... Recorded nine assists and one goal.

Mali Mack

Meridian

So.

D

Second-team All-NWC selection ... Helped Meridian advance to the Class 1A state quarterfinals ... Played forward at times, but had her biggest impact on the back line, where she had the ability to mark the top players in the league ... Good speed and showed leadership.

Hannah Moore

Sehome

So.

F

First-team All-NWC selection ... Helped Sehome advance to the Class 2A bi-district tournament ... A deceptively fast player who has great ball control ... A strong finisher who had 13 goals and five assists this season.

Kate Neher

Ferndale

Sr.

F

Second-team All-NWC selection ... Helped Ferndale reach the Class 3A Northwest District Tournament ... Ferndale’s offensive MVP with 12 goals and six assists, including a number of important goals ... Strong on the ball and has the ability to get teammates involved ... Played at striker, even though more of an attacking midfielder.

Miceala Pimento

Meridian

Sr.

F

Second-team All-NWC selection ... Helped Meridian advance to the Class 1A state quarterfinals ... Missed a few games due to injury, but still managed to record three hat tricks, including one against Burlington-Edison ... Sacrificed her body to get position and finished with 15 goals and six assists.

Christiana Salinas

Ferndale

Sr.

M

Second-team All-NWC selection ... Helped Ferndale reach the Class 3A Northwest District Tournament ... A quick, strong player on the ball who plays bigger than she is ... Creative and dynamic player who scored nine goals working mostly as Ferndale outside right midfielder ... Scored nine goals.

Sierra Smith

Lynden

Jr.

F

First-team All-NWC selection ... Helped Lynden reach the Class 2A state playoffs for the first time since 1992 ... Had an ability to finish with both feet and was good defensively, too ... Finished with 18 goals, many of which came in meaningful situations ... Second time selected all-league.

Ali VanZanten

Lynden

So.

D

First-team All-NWC selection ... Helped Lynden reach the Class 2A state playoffs for the first time since 1992 ... One of the top defenders in the league for a second straight year ... 6-foot frame helps her as Lions’ sweeper ... Helped Lynden record seven shutouts.

Ryley Zapien

Meridian

Sr.

M

Second-team All-NWC selection ... Helped Meridian advance to the Class 1A state quarterfinals ... Rebounded from having a knee injury as a junior to have a good year ... Composed player with swift feet ... A player teammates follow ... Finished with 11 goals and 10 assists.

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