Before 2012, Squalicum’s girls’ soccer team wasn’t a soccer powerhouse. The Storm had only been to two state tournaments ever and didn’t win a game in either trip.
Enter 2014-15’s senior class of Jackie Dierdorff, Julia DeVere, Michelle Saunders, Sarah Byron and Payton McNally.
The group of girls had been playing together on the Whatcom Rangers premier soccer team since sixth grade and had years of elite soccer experience to bring to the Squalicum table.
Little did Squalicum coach David Kish know at the time, but this group would change Squalicum forever.
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The group immediately made varsity and many of them started.
“We’re no slouch on talent and as freshmen they were able to come in and immediately be on varsity, a number of them starting their freshman year,” Kish said in a phone interview. “They brought in a huge skillset.”
Since then, the Storm have been to two state semifinals and been a dominant force in the Northwest Conference. Squalicum is no longer an unknown in girls’ soccer, rather a name that’s expected to be seen at Shoreline Stadium every season for the state semifinals.
But the Storm try not to think about that. The focus is always on the next game, and right now, that’s Hockinson in the state quarterfinals on Saturday, Nov. 15, at Civic Stadium.
“The moment we look past Hockinson is the moment this season ends,” DeVere said in a phone interview. “It’s so easy to think we have a spot in the semis with our name on it, waiting for us to come in and take that game. That’s a dangerous mindset to have. Saturday could be the last game of my high school career and I’m not ready for that.”
And while this year hasn’t really seen the Storm face much adversity, aside from a 2-2 tie with Sehome, the cast of seniors has faced failure before and that’s a fact that propels them forward.
The seniors lost in a winner-to-state game as freshmen, then had two state semifinal losses as sophomores and juniors. With all the success the Storm have had, it’s made the defeats all the more crushing.
“It was definitely tough. We definitely had the control to make it to finals and potentially win,” Saunders said in a phone interview. “It’s made us stronger each year. This year, I feel like it’s our year. Everyone’s going to click.”
Falling just short the past two years has made the desire even stronger to win that elusive state title. Believing in the team is something that might go a long way to reaching that goal, and there’s no shortage of confidence from the Storm.
Even when the Storm was down 2-0 to Sehome in an October game, the players never doubted they would come back.
“I never once thought we would lose. All of us thought the same way,” DeVere said. “It did give us a bit of adversity. We’ve kind of sailed though this season. Everytime we need motivation we look back at that game.”
The Storm seniors are certainly not the faces people recognize when they think of Squalicum — that is reserved for leading scorers Kim Hazlett and Kim Dorr.
But the seniors team-first mindset is what separates them from the rest and something they’ve established throughout the squad.
“The focus on team is something I really pride myself on ,” Kish said. “I want us to win as a team and play as a team. They work for each other. There’s nothing individual about any of them.”
That’s why it came as no surprise that when defender Rachel Dorr went down with an injury early in the season and Kish asked Saunders to fill in at central back, instead of her more natural holding midfielder, that she accepted the role.
It wasn’t her favorite position but she’s glad she can help a team that’s only allowed eight goals this season.
She’s also able to use her skills as a midfielder to start the attack from the back.
“It’s kind of a big weight on my shoulders,” Saunders said. “It’s a little fun to see how one pass can affect the whole play. Make a bad pass, it could come back down your throat. You make a good pass, you might get a good chance on goal.”
But for all the talent that these seniors have — and Kish had plenty to say about what each brings to the table — and for all the success that they have brought Squalicum, what sticks out the most was the friendships between the seniors that have developed.
From the first moments in high school, this group has been there for each other.
“It was definitely kind of comforting,” Dierdorff said in a phone interview. “Going into high school is a scary thing. They made the transition a lot easier.”
And even though they will all go their separate ways for college, Byron admits she’ll keep in touch.
For Byron, this state tournament means an awful lot, because her soccer career is over after this. Unlike the other seniors, she won’t be playing collegiately.
“It’s huge,” Byron said of the state tournament. “For me, it’s just having fun and playing as well as I can. I really just hope to keep going.”
To do that and get back to the state semifinal, it just means playing Squalicum soccer, the players agreed. But no matter what happens Saturday, the seniors can take solace in the fact they changed Squalicum girls’ soccer forever.