High School Soccer

Defense wins championships? Some NWC girls soccer teams think so in 2016

Squalicum’s Kendra Steele, left, and Bellingham’s Brooke Baker go for a header at the same time Oct. 31 at Civic Stadium in Bellingham. Steele returns to a Storm defense that allowed just four goals in 2015.
Squalicum’s Kendra Steele, left, and Bellingham’s Brooke Baker go for a header at the same time Oct. 31 at Civic Stadium in Bellingham. Steele returns to a Storm defense that allowed just four goals in 2015. eabell@bhamherald.com

It’s a simple axiom on any team sport, but perhaps more teams actually embrace it in soccer: An opponent can’t win if it can’t score.

To put it more simply, defense not only wins games, it wins championships.

It may not always prove true, but having an impressive defense can make a team click. Ask some of the top high school girls soccer teams from Whatcom County.

Last season, four Whatcom County teams allowed 20 or fewer goals during their league schedules – Lynden, Sehome, Ferndale and Squalicum.

The Lions dominated defensively, surrendering 17 goals all season, and in 2016, they absolutely plan to rely on their defense again, according to coach Carlos Melendez.

“We’re returning eight starters, and our team will be able to build off our defense,” Melendez said. “We return sophomore defender Ali Van Zanten, who will run our defense.”

At Sehome, coach Andria Fountain also is depending on her defense, after the Mariners held opponents to 19 goals in 2015.

“Our defense works really well together,” Fountain said. “We feel pretty good about 2016 and think our defense could lead us to the playoffs.”

One team that’s learned by watching is Blaine. Last season, the Borderites allowed more than three goals per game, but coach Kelly Tuski has made defensive play a focus this year, hoping to dramatically cut that number.

“We’ve had a really good start to 2016 with practices,” Tuski said. “We’ve definitely come to the conclusion that this team will be defensively oriented.”

The Borderites return three key defensive players in junior Kayla Miller, senior Brooke Gitten and junior goalkeeper Tessa Kelly.

Even though Ferndale has a new coach in Rygel White, he plans to build around a defensive core that allowed just 25 goals in 2015.

“We have three returning starters and the core group is there,” White said. “As good as they were last year, we still want to improve defensively this season and lower that number of goals scored.”

But as good as Lynden, Sehome, Blaine and Ferndale hope to be defensively, they’ll still be chasing the amazing performance of Squalicum in 2015, when the storm allowed just four goals in 23 games – 20 of which were shutouts.

With defense like that, and the fact that Squalicum singed the back of the net 102 times at the other end of the field, it’s no wonder the Storm finished a perfect 23-0 season with a Class 2A state title.

First-year coach Jose Rodriguez (who was an assistant in 2015) inherits a team that returns senior midfielder Kendra Steele.

“She’s (Steele) is the glue to our team,” Rodriguez said. “She’ll play midfield but will also step down to play defender as well when needed.”

As much as players matter to the Storm’s defensive attitude, its scheme is what trumps importance for its defense.

“We want to start our attack from the back,” Rodriguez said. “Sure, sometimes we’ll lose the ball quickly, but if we work hard enough, we can build that attack early from the back. That’s what we did so well in 2015.”

Though Squalicum graduated a number of talented seniors, with a handful like Steele returning, it will be looking for the best defense of all – a title defense.

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