High School Soccer

Meridian riding youthful bliss

Terry Tigert, the first-year head coach for Meridian’s girls’ soccer team, has a starting lineup torn in two.

There’s seven sophomores, and just about everyone else.

No other team in the Northwest Conference employs such a youthful lineup, let alone a group contending in the upper-third of the conference. But this isn’t a run-of-the-mill class, Tigert said, who was quickly taken aback when she laid eyes on her team for the first time in late August.

“I have seven sophomores who hold their ground,” Tigert said in a phone interview. “It’s great that I have a young team willing to work and fight for that spot.”

The Trojans’ soccer program enters the 2014 season riding three consecutive berths in the Class 1A State Tournament, falling last year in the quarterfinals to Seattle Academy 3-0.

Payton Lunde, Ryley Zapien and first-team all-league goalie Sydney Gospodinovich all played significant roles on that team, no doubt returning with experience that has helped Meridian jump out to a 4-1-1 start.

Relying on youth, by all accounts, is no excuse for not reaching the state tournament for a fourth consecutive year, Gospodinovich said.

“I think we’re really good and I think we should be out there in the starting lineup because we work hard,” she said in a phone interview. “I came out (of last year) wanting to go farther than we did — trying to work harder.”

Paired with Lunde, Zapien and Gospodinovich are fellow sophomores Michaela Pimento, Emily Brackinreed, Emily Stuth and Emily Kooiman — all of which start alongside senior standouts Janessa Murphy and Lexi McKinnon.

It was evident at first glance the chemistry that existed between the group of sophomores, mainly Zapien in the midfield and Lunde upfront.

Zapien, Lunde and Gospodinovich began playing together in the second grade, Lunde said, covering all three areas of the field, from Gospodinovich in the back, Zapien in midfield to Lunde at forward.

“We all get to connect on the field,” Lunde said in a phone interview. “I remember the time me and Ryley, out on the wing, played a cross-and-finish game. She’d cross to me and I’d finish.”

They’ve only grown more adept at reading one other.

Lunde is picking up where her sister, 2013 All-Whatcom County Girls’ Soccer Player of the Year Taylor Lunde, left off a year ago, sitting second on the team with six goals and three assists. Brackinereed, fresh off a four-goal game against Nooksack Valley on Thursday, Sept. 25, also has six, Zapien proving to be more of a facilitator than a scorer with three assists and one goal.

Tigert’s philosophy differs from the one the Trojans operated under while Andrea Ames headed the team. The first-year coach wanted to install a more possession-based attack, focusing less on individual talent and more on control.

It was a change in philosophy her team grasped, already evolving into an offense that has outscored its opposition 33-8.

“They said they were individually skilled … and they told me they wanted to be a better possession team,” Tigert said. “I’m just more happy to see them playing beautiful soccer rather than just kicking it.”

Tigert’s vision of what Meridian’s program can become has one eye set toward this season, another set toward the years to come. She inherited a group thirsty to prove age is nothing but a number, blended with the likes of Murphy (seven goals) and McKinnon (three goals, seven assists), who want nothing more than to win in their final campaign.

“I’ve never looked at class being something I would be scared of,” Tigert said.

Payton shared her coach’s’ perspective.

“When we play soccer, I feel like the youngness to us isn’t really an issue,” she said. “We just want to make a big contribution to help the team.”