When the Kamiakin High School girls soccer team took its preseason retreat to Camp Lutherhaven near Couer d’Alene, Idaho, coach Chris Erikson laid out three goals for her team:
1. Get to know each other better,
2. Work hard in practice,
3. Get to state and win it.
“After coming back from the retreat, you could tell something was different with the team,” senior defender Kaylee Kraft said. “We were all closer on a different level. It’s hard to explain, but it’s really amazing.”
It’s safe to say the Braves are actively accomplishing those first two goals, and they seem well on their way to the third after starting the season with a perfect 10-0 record (9-0 against MCC foes). They’re hoping they can turn the early momentum into their first trip to the state tournament in Puyallup since 2013.
“This would be the first time, if we go to state, for me,” Kraft said. “Kamiakin went the year before I got here, so it’s really nice that we’re thriving this year. And it’s my senior year, so it’s like, make it count and make it last as long as possible.”
Kraft has anchored a Kamiakin back line that has posted five straight shutouts entering Tuesday’s match at Chiawana, and has allowed just three goals in nine MCC contests. And with Grace Wilbur, a second-team All-MCC selection last year, back in net, the Braves defense has looked impenetrable so far.
But the defense was stellar last year as well, giving up just 15 goals in 19 games. What’s allowed this team to separate itself from a pretty good 2016 squad that went 11-8 (9-5 in conference) has been its dynamic attack, led by forwards Maddie Morgan and Izzy Conover, who rank second and third in the league in scoring, respectively, with a combined 27 goals.
“I think since we’ve all been playing together for a really long time, it’s allowed us to get to know each other really well as players, and know what we’re like on and off the field,” Morgan said. “So we work really well up top together.”
With some of the league’s best midfielders — Aaliyah Valladeras and Britney Donais have each recorded 10 assists — controlling possession and moving the ball into the attacking third, a pair of forwards who could create and convert chances was exactly what Erikson and the Braves needed to soar to new heights.
“We worked a lot on finishing this season, and they’ve always had that potential, but now they’re executing,” said Erikson, in her 31st year as Kamiakin’s coach. “They’re also very receptive to making changes the way they need to make changes for different opponents, and I think that’s a big factor.”
Kamiakin will need to bring its ‘A’ game on both ends if it hopes to survive this week with its perfect record intact, as the team travels to Chiawana, then hosts Richland and Hanford, all in the next five days.
A quick look at those games:
▪ The Braves whooped Chiawana (8-3, 7-3) the first time through the league schedule, 4-0 on Sept. 14, but that was in large part due to the absence of Riverhawks’ star forward Summer Yates (leads MCC with 15 goals), who was in China competing with the U.S. Under-19 Women’s National Team. Yates returned in late September in top form, and will be fully capable of causing havoc for Kamiakin at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
▪ Richland was also undefeated the first time it played Kamiakin, but suffered its first loss of the season, 6-1, in that Sept. 19 tilt. The Bombers also lost to Chiawana 3-1 on Oct. 3, but still boast the second-best record in the MCC at 10-2 (8-2 MCC). Their rematch with the Braves kicks off at 7 p.m. Thursday at Lampson Stadium.
▪ In a make-up of an early-season game postponed because of wildfire smoke, Kamiakin hosts Hanford at 9 a.m. Saturday at Lampson. The Falcons gave the Braves one of their toughest games of the season last week, as they had to scratch out a 2-0 victory, so the rematch should be a good one.
As much as fitness, health and concentration can be challenged when playing three games in a week, the Braves are looking forward to facing some of their toughest competition in the penultimate week of the regular season.
“It’ll push us,” Conover said. “Because Richland, we beat them the first time we played, but they’re going to come out hard this time. Chiawana’s gonna be good, and Hanford’s gonna be good too.”