RICHLAND -- Kie Johnson is a friendly and fun-loving person, but she has come to appreciate the recent and significant silence in the locker room at Hanford High School.
When the Falcons football and volleyball teams fell short of the 3A state playoffs, that left Hanford's state-qualifying girls' soccer team all alone in there before practice Monday.
"It's a little weird because nobody's in there," said Johnson, a team captain and a big reason for the Falcons' first state appearance since 2005. "But it means a lot since this is my senior year. I haven't been (to state) since I've been here."
Johnson has been a big part of the soccer resurgency at Hanford, which made the 3A state tournament for 17 straight years from 1987-2003 but only twice since then. She has led the team in scoring for the last two seasons -- seven goals last season and 14 this year.
The Falcons (15-4) play a first-round 3A state match against Southridge at 6 p.m. today at Southridge High School. The two teams split their regular season matches with each team winning on its home field.
But it was during Hanford's 6-0 loss at Southridge in September that Falcons coach Mart Oostrom made a key decision that set the tone for the team's remaining games. Oostrum, the CBBN 3A coach of the year, shifted Johnson, an attacking midfielder, to sweeper to anchor Hanford's back third.
"Players like that you always wish you had a few more," Oostrom said. "You see her utility -- she's a deadly striker and a strong attacking midfielder. You only get that kind of talent a few times in your career."
Since that move, the Falcons are 11-2 and have allowed just six goals over the last 13 games. Her shift to the back line was a pretty smooth transition, even a gracious one according to her teammates.
Hanford freshman Sydney Shintaffer only recently joined the defense after playing most of the regular season at midfield. But she said Johnson has set a strong, positive example for what is expected.
"She leads by example and by telling us what to do. She sets a good tone, but not by yelling," Shintaffer said. "I like having her in back. If I mess up, I know she's going to be there."
Johnson, who has committed to play for Chad Bodnar at Walla Walla Community College in the fall, has enjoyed the give-and-take with Oostrom, a master technician who works hard to find the right role for each player. But in addition to a serious coaching side, he also has a lighter side.
"He's a really funny guy, very sarcastic," Johnson said. "After we won last week, we had to force him to take a picture with the team. He always says, 'You are the ones who won the game.' "
Today's matchup will feature both CBBN 3A Players of the Year -- Johnson from Hanford and Heather Johnson from Southridge. The latter has been a handful for the Falcons on defense, collecting three goals and two assists in two games.
"We don't have any illusion that we can easily stop her," Oostrom said. "We have to do everything we can. If we're not careful, we can be on the wrong side of things."
Accounting for the Suns star is a job Kie Johnson takes very seriously, too.
"My job is to keep everybody sharp and on their mark," Johnson said. "I honestly get a little nervous before each game, but coach says being a little nervous is good. It lets you know you're ready."
Lewis & Clark (17-1-1) at Chiawana (11-6)
PASCO — LC knocked off top CBBN 4A seed Richland on Saturday, scoring twice in the final 12 minutes in a 2-1 win. But the Tigers are on the road for a second consecutive game, this time against an improved Chiawana team led by CBBN 4A co-Player of the Year Erin Huisingh.
Kiona-Benton (14-4) at Lakeside (9 Mile Falls) (13-4-1)
Lakeside, the Northeast A regular-season champion, hasn’t lost in 10 matches, but they’ll face a battle-tested Ki-Be team led by forward Bailey Schroeder (16 goals), Brittany Vickerman (14 g, 7 assists) and a tough defense.
* Jack Millikin; 509-582-1406; email@example.com