Soccer: Chiawana Riverhawks brew up team chemistry

November 1, 2013 

Chiawana soccer feature

Alexis Stephenson, left, Molly Sullivan and Braydey Hodgins lead the Riverhawks into the Mid-Columbia Conference district championship this Saturday

PAUL T. ERICKSON — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

The Chiawana Riverhawks already had two of the most talented strikers to begin the 2013 girls soccer season.

What they didn’t have was chemistry.

While Mid-Columbia Con-ference coaches were wracking their brains trying to figure out how to defend sophomore Braydey Hodgins and junior Alexis Stephenson, Riverhawks coach Rich Zoller was doing his best to make sure the pair would make it through the season without a major breakdown in the attacking third.

“Coming into the year, we weren’t all that good of friends. We used to bicker and fight during games. I think it’s because we have the same personalities,” Stephenson said. “Our coach has worked hard for us to find our chemistry. The team bonding helped.

“When it really picked up was when Braydey and me got into a car accident.”

Nothing like a minor crisis to help bring two people closer together.

“We got stuck in a rainstorm on the way back from a team dinner. I took a glance in the rear-view mirror and drove my car into the back of another car,” Stephenson said.

Nobody was hurt in the accident, but Hodgins and Stephenson began to find some common ground after the scary event.

“After the wreck, we realized we don’t need to be competing all the time,” Hodgins said. “She’s probably one of my best friends on and off the field. Our play has gotten a lot better since our chemistry got better.”

It’s difficult to argue with that logic, especially when you look at their production. Hodgins leads the MCC with 18 goals and is third with 11 assists, while Stephenson is third in goals with 14 and second with 12 assists.

“They both have a desire to achieve on the field and to do well,” Zoller said. “They both have that inner strength to go out and perform on a consistent basis.”

Stephenson has done most of her damage getting behind defenses and scoring on breakaways, while Hodgins uses her leaping ability to sky above defenders and redirect headers off crossing passes from the wing.

Since Zoller uses a three-forward system, Molly Sullivan has been a big part of Chiawana’s success up front. She may not have the numbers — six goals and four assists — to match Hodgins and Stephenson, but she is content to contribute to the team goal of reaching the 4A state tournament. “I like working in the middle up top and getting the ball in or flicking it on for (Hodgins or Stephenson), Sullivan said.

The Riverhawks have already earned the No. 1 seed to the District 5 championship at 3 p.m. today, where they will play Richland.

Sullivan and Hodgins also have something in common. Both have older sisters who set a high standard for their younger siblings. Hayley Hodgins, who starred for four seasons for Pasco and Chiawana girls basketball, is now one of Eastern Washington University’s top returning guards, and Morgan Sullivan, who is second on Pasco’s all-time goals list for girls soccer, went on to star at Clarke College in Dubuque, Iowa.

Their younger siblings are proud of their sisters’ success but both are intent on creating their own legacy at Chiawana.

“I just try and do what I can,” Molly said. “I think we can go pretty far if we just keep doing what we’re doing.”

No matter how much interests college soccer scouts have in Braydey on the pitch, they may be out of luck.

“Soccer is not really my main sport. I don’t particularly care for soccer as much as basketball,” said Braydey, whose mother Karen starred at Pasco and then the University of Washington. “There is pressure at times when it comes to (my family’s basketball legacy), but I’m used to it.”

Stephenson gives credit to Chiawana senior defender Lexi Ellingsen for helping her negotiate the pressures of being one of the MCC’s top scorers the last two seasons.

“I wouldn’t be able to keep my head up without her. She’s like a big sister to me,” Stephenson said. “She doesn’t get to score a lot of goals, but she does so much for this team.”

Because the Riverhawks have been able to find their team concept, the chemistry that could have turned against them has evolved into a bitter potion for opponents.

“I’ve never had three players this prolific in the attack,” Zoller said. “It’s by far the best trio I’ve ever had.”

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