Michelle Saunders only started taking corner kicks and free kicks for the Squalicum’s girls’ soccer team this season, but her placement has led to more than a few of the Storm’s goals.
Her set pieces played a big role for the Storm in its Class 2A state semifinal win over Ephrata on Friday, Nov. 21, at Shoreline Stadium. Saunders took 11 corners for the Storm, two of which led to goals in the 3-1 victory.
“She has a really nice knack for floating balls in,” Squalicum coach David Kish said. “I lost a girl that took (set pieces) for three years, so Michelle stepped up this year and she’s been awesome.”
Saunders’ first corner was the breakthrough goal for the Storm in the sixth minute. She powered a long corner from the left of the Tigers’ goal to the right side of the net about 10 yards out. The pass found Sarah Byron’s head in open space, and Byron finished the ball into the right side past a host of Ephrata defenders.
“We’re trying to pressure the keeper as much as we can,” Saunders said. “She drove through it a couple of times, but we should have finished a couple times.”
Toward the end of a back-and-forth second half, with Squalicum holding a 2-1 lead, Saunders launched a corner kick into the middle of the box. Her bullet pass found Kim Hazlett streaking up the middle, and Hazlett was able to head the ball past the Ephrata keeper.
Squalicum had six corner kicks in the first half, many of which Saunders directed to the middle or far side of the box. Once the Tigers caught onto the Storm’s tendency, she was able to find a midfielder running to the near side of the box on a pair of corners.
“I’m looking for Kim and Kim (Hazlett and Dorr) and for if we have a short opportunity where they aren’t marking up there on the short ball,” Saunders said. “(On long kicks) I’m looking for far post. That’s where we’ve been practicing it, and they seem to be getting to it. We finished one today.”
With such success off set pieces, one might think the Storm has a playbook or variety of set pieces, but Saunders and Kish were quick to say that wasn’t the case.
“We don’t have any set plays; we communicate on the field and it works,” Saunders said.
For her first year taking free kicks and corners, Saunders has had a lot of success, Kish said.
“I think she’s up to 18 or 19 assists now,” he said. “The point is she’s taking all these corners and putting them right in a spot where our girls can finish. I didn’t have to coach it, for us comes down to timing. It’s getting girls to make runs at the right times and finish on target, but Michelle just keeps doing what she does.”