EVERETT — After inheriting a team that graduated 10 seniors a year ago, Archbishop Murphy’s first-year girls soccer coach, Michael Bartley, didn’t quite know what to expect this season.
Bartley took the girls head coaching job after coming to Archbishop Murphy to coach the boys soccer team last spring from Jackson, where he coached the Timberwolves’ girls team for nearly a decade. Coming to Murphy, he knew there would be expectations, but he just didn’t know what he had from a team that lost so many players and finished third in the Cascade Conference last season.
What he got was a team that has won its first 11 games and he said the biggest reason is defense.
Two of the Wildcats’ senior defenders, Brooke Busch and Stefanie Reynaud, have been playing together for years and they’re spearheading a defense that has five straight shutouts leading into tonight’s showdown with conference rival King’s.
The two seniors said that their familiarity helps them be successful on the field.
“We have been playing together for a long time, so we know how each other plays and I can see her going for the ball and know that she is going to get it because I trust her,” Reynaud said. “I think it has a lot to do with trust being in the backline.”
It’s easy to understand why the Wildcats defenders trust each other. They have given up just one goal in their nine Cascade Conference victories and just three over the entire season.
“It starts with the back four,” Bartley said. “They are outstanding. They work together. They are really good friends. They can talk to each other and know that they aren’t worried about anything like that.”
After so many years of playing together, not only do Busch and Reynaud communicate well, but they can also read each other and opponents without saying a word.
“I would say we are both very vocal,” Busch said. “We see what’s ahead of us and we make adjustments according to what we see. I would also say that if she steps up, I will cover her, and if I step up, she covers me so we both have each others backs. So I think we are really strong in that way. I would also say we can predict what’s coming. We can adjust, we are just prepared for anything.”
What the Wildcats can prepare for tonight is a battle. Archbishop Murphy faces a King’s team that is 8-1 in league and 10-1 overall and is in second place. It’s a game that could decide the Cascade Conference championship. The two teams already have faced each other once this season, Murphy came away with a 1-0 victory.
“At the time, I was still learning how people played under pressure,” Bartley said. “It was great. I played everybody. All of them play all the time, so I got to see people play under pressure and what to work on, things like that. I didn’t know the defense would be as strong as it is, so we held them to a shutout. And then we emphasized restarts and we found one (goal) off of a restart. And then it was 1-0 and we thought let’s just get the win and get on the bus and get out of here and get back to the school and keep going. And now it has turned into being a very big win for us.”
The importance of the game the second time around isn’t lost on the Wildcats.
“We are calling it the game of the year for us as far as the importance of it,” Bartley said. “If we win it, we pretty much have command on the conference title, so it’s very big. The girls know it too. They are a little quiet today because they know how important it is.”
If the defense can do what it did against the Knights last time, that takes care of half the game. Then it is left up to the offense, led by forward Shelby Koch and midfielder Cali Crisler to find a goal.
“(The offense) definitely carries a lot of the team too,” Busch said. “I know Shelby and Cali for sure. They are probably our main goal scorers. Really, they combine very well with each other.”
As for the expectations at Archbishop Murphy, Bartley was prepared for that when he took the job.
“The tradition of Murphy girls soccer has been win state,” Bartley said. “So I came in knowing that those expectations are going to be there every year. I embraced that. It was the same as I had at Jackson, we won the South seven out of the nine times I was there. It’s my expectation and it’s theirs, so I thought it was a good place for me to be.”
Aaron Lommers covers prep sports for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.