High School Soccer

Young defense key to Ferndale girls’ soccer state hopes

Ferndale sophomore outside defender Elsa Ericson takes a goal kick in a prep girls’ soccer game against Sedro-Woolley on Thursday, Oct. 1, at Ferndale High School
Ferndale sophomore outside defender Elsa Ericson takes a goal kick in a prep girls’ soccer game against Sedro-Woolley on Thursday, Oct. 1, at Ferndale High School The Bellingham Herald

State.

Ferndale’s girls’ soccer has never been and it’s the one thing every Golden Eagles player has had her mind on since the end of last season — a heartbreaking overtime defeat in the winner-to-state, loser-out game.

But to get to reach that goal, the Golden Eagles have had to cope with replacing two of the best players to ever grace the Northwest Conference — forward Jordin Bartel and defender Carly Bannerman, both of which now play NCAA Division II soccer.

“We’re going to have to play as a unit and a team,” Gonzalez said after a 7-0 win over Sedro-Woolley last Thursday. “We have been working so hard to gel. We’re still not quite there.”

The Golden Eagles are 4-2-3 overall and have been lackluster compared to what the expectations were this season.

Still, Gonzalez thinks this team can be the squad that finally breaks through to the Class 3A tourney. He likened the situation to dishrags and rubber bouncy balls.

“Instead of taking the dishrag approach to life — the harder you throw a dishrag down, the harder it splats out — we try to take the Super Ball approach,” Gonzalez said. “You take the Super Ball, the harder you throw it down, it bounces even higher. So I’m OK with having slip-ups.”

The one area, though, that’s excelled for Ferndale this year has been its defense. The youthful defense composed of three sophomores, a junior and a senior captain has only allowed seven goals through the first nine games. The feat ranks second in the NWC, tied with Lynden.

While young, the five defensive players — sophomore defenders Elsa Ericson and Alex McBeath, sophomore goalkeeper Rachel Neher, and center backs junior Kylie Larmer and senior Jalissa Somers —have developed a great chemistry, all five likening the group to a family.

“I like how well we work together,” Somers said. “We always communicate and know where we’re going to be at.”

The backline is about as ideal as they come — two speedy outside defenders paired with strong central backs and a vocal, talented goaltender. With four of the five players slated to return next season, this defense is only getting better.

Here’s a look at what makes each member of the defense that will be tested against the high-powered attack of Squalicum Tuesday night, Oct. 6, successful:

Rachel Neher

Year: Sophomore

Position: Goalkeeper

Scouting report: A good goalie can often be hard to find in girls’ soccer, but the Golden Eagles found a great one in Neher. She was a starter as a freshman and continues to improve. “That’s the position she wants to play. She loves it so her passion is there,” coach Joe Gonzalez said. That drive has allowed her to make great strides, not only in her skillset, but as vocal leader from the back, something her teammates are fond of. She is always talking and directing, her teammates agreed.

Quotable: “Rachel’s awesome. I love her. She’s just an amazing all-around keeper and I always know she’s going to be there to make the big saves.” -- sophomore Elsa Ericson

Elsa Ericson

Year: Sophomore

Position: Left outside defender

Scouting report: Ericson takes the goal kicks and most free kicks in the defensive end and for good reason. She’s got a strong right foot and has developed a left to go along with it. With a revamped defensive line, Ericson knew she had to make the step from JV most of last year to starter this season and it’s been a seamless transition. “She just constantly works,” Gonzalez said. “She has a great work rate, she’s super smart. She just brings a solid left side of the back line.”

Quotable: “She’s got great kicks and she’s great at making runs up the field, which is what an outside defender should do.” -- junior Kylie Larmer

Jalissa Somers

Year: Senior

Position: Central defender

Scouting report: Replacing graduated defender Carly Bannerman as the captain in the back is no easy task, but Somers (or J-lo as her teammates call her) has done it as best one can. She’s strong in the air, something coach Gonzalez pushes of all his defenders, and is not one to just kick it out of the back. She can dribble and handle the ball well, then distribute it forward. “She’s captain for a reason. All the girls enjoy having her there and having her as captain,” Gonzalez said.

Quotable: “Jalissa is our rock in the back. We always know she’s going to be there to get a stop or make a slide tackle or do whatever is necessary to make sure they don’t score.” -- sophomore Elsa Ericson

Kylie Larmer

Year: Junior

Position: Central defender

Scouting report: Gonzalez is the first to admit that starting Larmer as a sophomore last year ruffled some feathers, but there was too much raw talent there for him to pass up, the coach said. Larmer’s game experience last season has allowed her to develop into one of the strongest defenders in the league. “She is fearless of nothing,” Gonzalez said. Larmer is likely the strongest in the air of the Golden Eagles and is willing to put her body on the line to get a ball, often surprising opposing forwards by stepping in front.

Quotable: “She’s a good defender. She can get around people and she doesn’t give up easily.” -- sophomore Rachel Neher

Alex McBeath

Year: Sophomore

Position: Right outside defender

Scouting report: Speed, speed and more speed. McBeath is a great runner and nearly opted to do cross country instead of soccer. Luckily for the Golden Eagles, she chose the latter. The young back is always eager to get up the field and help in the offense and her speed allows her to get back in a hurry, Gonzalez said. “She worked with me all summer and really progressed,” Gonzalez said. She’s also much improved in the air from last season, when she couldn’t quite crack the starting rotation.

Quotable: “She’s great at making runs. She’s a speed demon. She never runs out of energy it seems like and she’s not afraid to get that ball.” -- junior Kylie Larmer

Reach Joshua Hart at 360-715-2238 or joshua.hart@bellinghamherald.com.

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