The Kamiakin High School girls soccer team’s season will end a few days before Thanksgiving, but the Braves have a lot to be thankful for.
Specifically, a defense that has allowed just eight goals and posted 12 shutouts on the year to lead the team to a 19-0 start.
The Braves have posted 12 shutouts and allowed just eight goals against en route to a 19-0 start to the year.
If the defense is able to keep playing at that unbelievable clip, it could deliver a state title for Kamiakin this weekend, which takes on Mercer Island at 2 p.m. Friday at Puyallup’s Sparks Stadium in the Class 3A semifinals.
“First of all, we don’t get goals scored on us, or at least as many goals scored on us,” said Chris Erikson, who in her 31st year as the Braves’ coach, is taking a team to the semifinals for the seventh time. “Also, I think it gives confidence to the attack, because they know if you go forward, and the other team transitions quickly, they (the defenders) are going to be able to slow things down so people can recover and help.
“It’s the three D’s, deny, delay and destroy, and they’re very smart about choosing the right times to do those things.”
The starting back line of Bela Nicacio and first-team All-MCC selections Emma Johnson, Rylie Clark and Kaylee Kraft has undoubtedly been the best in the area, and possibly the state this year. Led by the lone senior, Kraft, the group is equally as smart and tenacious as it is talented.
Kraft said the key to the team’s defensive success has been “our determination as a back line. We always set goals before games, just the back line as a whole, and our goal is always to not let any goals in.”
And they’ve achieved that darn near every time they’ve laced it up this season. From Oct. 12 to Nov. 2, the Braves and senior keeper Grace Wilbur recorded six straight shutouts, and they haven’t surrendered more than one goal in a game since their season opener on Sept. 2 vs. Gonzaga Prep, a 3-2 victory.
So when the players say they’re upset about surrendering goals in each of their state playoff games against Mountain View (a 4-1 victory) and Lakeside of Seattle (2-1 in overtime), they’re not just blowing smoke.
“It’s very disappointing. It was really hard giving up a goal in the last game,” Kraft said, “but we got it back, so that’s all that matters.”
That attitude is a big reason why Wilbur finished the MCC season with an absurd .31 goals against average per 80 minutes (.73 lower than the next eligible keeper) while only having to make 16 saves over the equivalent of about 13 games.
“It’s amazing,” Wilbur said. “It’s great to have a team that I know I can count on, and I know if I need help, they’ve got my back and I’ve got theirs.”
Though only rarely pressed into serious action this season, Wilbur is more than capable of answering the call when needed. She stopped a well-struck penalty kick against Mountain View, then, against Lakeside, kept another PK out after the initial shot hit the crossbar, bounced up, and she was ran over by the Lions’ shooter while corralling the rebound.
“Yeah, I’ve been hit a couple times, but that was a pretty good one,” Wilbur said. “I love the adrenaline (of defending against PKs), I love the pressure, I love everything about it.”
Wilbur sustained an injury early in the season, which forced minutes upon sophomore Alyssa Humphrey and freshman Campbelle Hunt. The young keepers proved capable in a pinch, but Erikson has been thrilled to have her two-year starter back in net.
“She’s ferocious, and she’s just gotten better and better as the season’s gone on,” Erikson said of Wilbur. “She’s a lot of fun too. She’s lively. Keepers have their own world, but she works well with everyone.”
IN PURSUIT OF A TITLE
Kamiakin enters its Friday match against KingCo 2A/3A champ Mercer Island (13-1-3) as one of two remaining unbeaten Class 3A teams in the state. The other unbeaten, 3A Pierce County champion Stadium (18-0), takes on Bellevue (14-5-1) in the other semifinal at 4 p.m. Friday.
The championship match is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday, while the consolation game is at 10 a.m., both also at Sparks Stadium.
If Kamiakin wins its semifinal match, it will be the fifth consecutive year a Kennewick team will play in the 3A title match. Southridge has participated the past three years, and the Braves did it before that, in 2013, when the current seniors were in 8th Grade.
Despite all the trips to the final, no Kennewick team has ever won a girls soccer state title. The last Tri-City school to accomplish that feat was Richland, in 2003.
“This has been my dream since freshman year,” Kraft said of advancing to the championship weekend. “It’s just really amazing to go to state my senior year because it’s our last run. I didn’t think we’d be able to make it this far, but to be undefeated to this point is just a great accomplishment. It’s been a great run.”
Added Wilbur: “It’s everything. Playing with these girls, since it’s my last year playing soccer, it means everything. I want to end on a good note, and I know they want that too. I just want to win so bad.”
Kraft has committed to play soccer at Austin Peay in Clarksville, Tenn., next season. Wilbur is considering playing golf for Columbia Basin College; she reached state as a junior this spring.