Holland Crook has felt her share of pain on the soccer field. As a sophomore for the Todd Beamer High Titans, she and her teammates walked off the field at Harry E. Lang Stadium in Lakewood with their hearts aching and tears streaming down their cheeks after losing to Eastlake in a shootout for the 4A state championship in 2007.
A few months later, she experienced the fear and pain of a broken ankle suffered while playing for her club team. There was then the grueling rehabilitation to recover from the injury.
But any pain suffered on the field paled in comparison to the agony of not being on the field during last season’s 4A state playoffs. The Titans were stunned by Tahoma in the district playoffs and a season with championship hopes ended prematurely.
“It was way worse last year,” Crook said. “It’s hard when you are not playing and you know you have a team that’s capable of being there.”
Championship losses leave a pain that may fade over time because making the finals is a triumph in itself. But failing to reach a level of expectation is like a punch to the stomach – and Crook is still trying to regain her breath.
“Yeah, it was hard to lose in the final and I’m sure that’s something that will stick with us forever, but to not even have another shot at it last year was hard,” Crook said.
Crook said she and her teammates lost interest after losing. The state soccer playoffs went on, but Crook and most of her teammates weren’t interested in watching other teams enjoy what they had missed out on. Crook didn’t even consider going as a spectator.
“Oh no, we were all so bitter,” she said. “We’d been there. We were supposed to be there playing, not there watching. There’s no way we could have sat and watched those other teams. It was just frustrating that we got knocked out.”
Now a senior, Crook knows this is her last chance to erase some of the disappointment. She leads a Beamer team that features 10 seniors – and the same level of expectation.
New head coach Joel Lindberg moves up from the junior varsity team to take the reins from Carrie Hentschell, who coached the team from the school’s inception and helped build it into a South Puget Sound League power.
Lindberg inherits an experienced team and one of the three best players in the state in Crook, who has committed to Arizona State and will receive a soccer scholarship.
“I come into a nice situation,” Lindberg said. “I’ve got some motivated kids.”
Perhaps no one is more motivated than Crook. She has 46 career goals coming into this season and she has earned every conceivable honor and accolade on the field, including SPSL South MVP in 2008, The News Tribune All-Area player of the year in 2007 and all-state honors the last two seasons. But she says that when her stellar high school career comes to an end, it will be a little incomplete without at least one more chance to play for the state title.
“I’d be disappointed,” she said, pausing to consider such a possibility. “I think it would be hard. Hopefully, we will get there. It would definitely be hard to have my senior year end short.”
There’s a sense of urgency. With every practice and game, the end of their high school careers comes closer for Crook and her fellow seniors. There will be no “next year” for them to win that title.
“I think that’s my go-to card for the seniors,” Lindberg said. “I have about 10 of them, and they want to go back and they want to be back.”
Crook, who might be one of the most intense athletes in the South Sound, also displays a focus and calmness this season. She’s logged so many games that she simply knows what is needed from her and her teammates.
“She is a different breed of kid,” Lindberg said. “She has fun with the team, they have fun together, but when she says it’s go-time they listen to her. They respect her so much. She takes charge, she takes control. If you get an order from her, you do it.”
Because of her intense nature, her superior talent and experience, Crook demands the respect of her teammates, regardless of age. But Lindberg believes it’s her approach to being a leader that actually garners an even higher level of respect from those around her.
“She does it in a way where she’s not on her high horse,” Lindberg said. “She’s really humble about it. She does it in her own way.”
In a sport, where the highest levels can be dominated by prima donnas, Crook is anything but. It’s easy to recognize her as the best player on the field in just a few minutes of watching, but nothing about her demeanor would is arrogant or cocky. She simply plays, plays well, and perhaps more important makes her team better. For all the goals she has scored, she seems just as content setting up a teammate with a good pass.
“She knows how to respond to her team,” Lindberg said. “She’s a great team player. She doesn’t play like a superstar. She doesn’t want to walk around with that me-first attitude. If someone makes a mistake, she wants to teach, not ask what they were doing.”
Perhaps it’s because she knows that she needs her teammates as much as they need her.
“It’s so about the chemistry,” she said. “We have to gel together and stay together and keep that ending in mind.”
While she may try to avoid the spotlight, or at least deflect it to her teammates, it’s still going to shine on Crook, whether she wants it or not. She seems ready to handle it.
“She’s been figuring out how to handle the pressure and the media,” Lindberg said.
“This year she’s just smooth, she’s confident and knows what she has to do.”
Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483
FOUR THINGS TO WATCH IN GIRLS SOCCER THIS YEAR
1. Will any Narrows League rival be able to rise to the challenge and dethrone Bellarmine Prep? The Lions have claimed eight of the last nine league titles – Olympia won in 2006 – and appear to be loaded to make a run at another banner.
2. Beamer might have the SPSL South’s best player in reigning league MVP Holland Crook, but Emerald Ridge returns a trio of first-team all-league players in midfielder Courtney Craft and forwards Kayla Stueckle and Audrey Sullivan. The Titans, who have won three consecutive league titles, and Jaguars meet in an early season rumble tonight.
3. Fife has won back-to-back Class 2A state championships, but the 2009 Trojans squad has taken on a much different look. Jeff Stock has taken over head coaching duties from Teri Shimoda, who stepped down after 13 seasons. Fife also graduated 12 seniors, including forward Amanda Roselli, The News Tribune’s All-Area Player of the Year. The Trojans do return five starters, so all their magic isn’t gone.
4. Can Kentwood win a third straight SPSL North championship? The Conquerors are sure going to try, and with senior defender Rachel Bindl returning – she anchored a defense that posted 15 shutouts – opponents will again have a tough time scoring on Kentwood.
Doug Pacey, The News Tribune