Kamiakin girls soccer has a storied past, but thanks to a young team that went 15-2-1 this season, the Braves also have a bright future.
At the core of that future is a defense that has allowed just eight goals in 18 games and recorded 12 shutouts.
It’s also one of the youngest collective units on the team, featuring two freshmen and a sophomore in the starting lineup.
In sports, youth can be a bad word often associated with frequent mistakes, bad decisions and unpredictable play. But in Kamiakin’s case, the back four of Heather Donais, Rachel Ensign, Sarah Burns and Samantha Walter has been as dependable as any in the Mid-Columbia Conference.
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“When we play our system, we’re pretty dynamite,” Kamiakin coach Chris Erikson said. “They’re really working well together.”
Mistakes have been made, of course, but the quartet has made quick work of the learning curve and come on strong for the playoffs. The Braves (15-2-1) will continue their playoff run in the 3A state quarterfinals against Mt. Spokane (18-0) at 1 p.m. today in Spokane.
“I made lots of mistakes early. That’s what I’ve done, and coach has gotten on me,” Ensign, a freshman club player, said. “And I appreciate it, because it helps me.”
Lauren McKinney, a junior who started in central defense since her freshman season, has been the heart of the Braves’ defense much of the season. But when the first-team All-MCC fullback went out with a concussion in a 2-0 loss to Mt. Spokane, someone had to step into her position.
Burns, normally a marking back, has filled that role admirably. Since Burns, a sophomore, slid over to the middle to pair with Ensign two games ago, the Braves have won two consecutive playoff games without giving up a goal.
“What we lack in experience, we make up with intensity,” Burns said. “We all know it’s not a one-person job. It’s a team effort, and we try to keep each other positive.”
Donais, a freshman, has made a big impression in the left back. Erikson likes the way she can push up to boost the offensive attack if neccessary, but loves how she has responded to the challenges of the position.
“It’s fun to watch Heather. She got beat three or four times at the beginning (of a recent 1-0 win over Mercer Island), and she doesn’t like to get beat,” Erikson said. “I told her at the half, ‘You’re getting an education.’ Then she started to make some adjustments going forward.”
Donais, who stepped back from club soccer this season (“It was too much soccer at one time,” she said), wasn’t sure where she would fit in this season, but played her way into a starting role. Defensive pressure was a big part of that.
“I like to pressure everybody on the field. There isn’t anybody I don’t pressure,” she said. “All I know is I worked hard (in preseason) and didn’t want to end up on the bench.”
Walter, a junior, played the last two seasons as a backup goalkeeper. But her tenacity and hard work led to Erikson finding a place for her on the field.
“Before the Mercer Island game, I talked to Sami at practice about how the girl on the outside mid had to be marked. She just had this look in her eye like, ‘Let me have her,’ ” Erikson said. “She killed me though when she passed a ball to Sarah for clearance about four feet from the goal. I told them, ‘That was really cool you guys, but it sure made me nervous.’
“Sami said, ‘Me too.’ But it worked out really well.”
The defense is more than just the back four, however. Brianna Turley, who started last season as a marking back, and Megan Young have been solid at midfield as well, making sure they don’t hang their defenders out to dry.
“In our system, Turley is supposed to be playing in back, but she still manages to play back and up,” Erikson said.
Turley, a first-team All-MCC midfielder, has enjoyed the versatility of her newest role.
“Most teams are picking up (forward) Ellie (Heiden), so it becomes the rest of our jobs to make plays and score goals,” Turley said.