By Jon Saperstein Herald Writer
EVERETT — In any given year, most area high school soccer teams are lucky to have one girl who goes on to play soccer in college.
That one girl is usually one of the captains. She’s certainly one of the most important leaders on the team. Her teammates all look to her when times are tough and the team needs inspiration or a last-second goal. She’s likely caught the attention of collegiate coaches by traveling the country with a club team that plays nearly year round.
Now, imagine if a bunch of those top players got together on the same team. What you have is the Everett-based Washington U18 Rush.
Members of the Rush have been playing together at an elite national level for years and the team boasts nearly all of the girls soccer players from Snohomish County who signed letters of intent Wednesday to play next fall in college.
The Rush roster of 18 players features 12 who will go on to the next level, taking their talent to NCAA Division I, II and III schools around the country. Eleven of the girls played high school soccer in either the Cascade Conference or one of the Wesco leagues. All are a part of something pretty rare for a club team.
“I don’t think people realize how hard it is to get to this place and have this many (collegiate-level) players be a part of one team,” coach Ben Somoza said. “I think it’s a special team.”
Somoza, a graduate of Edmonds-Woodway high school and former standout soccer player for the University of Washington and Seattle Sounders, has played and coached quite a bit of soccer. He has a hard time finding anything but glowing things to say about the team and its accomplishments.
“They are a lot of fun,” Somoza said. “They have unbelievable personalities. They want to be there and that’s is an important factor. “They like each other. They are enjoyable kids and I know all of them are going to succeed at the next level.”
They clearly have succeeded at the club level, going 22-2-2 in the past year and taking eight consecutive tournament titles, despite losing three players to season-ending injuries, including Marysville Pilchuck’s Becca Lentz, who tore her ACL in 2011, but expects to fully recover in plenty of time to play for Gonzaga next fall.
Lentz is part of a core of six Rush players that have played together since they were 10 years old. She and Lakewood’s Miranda Head, who will attend Cal State San Bernardino next fall, were there at the beginning when Lentz’s dad Tom started a club called the Marysville Force.
“(He) and I loved the game, so we found another group of eight girls that really liked it as well,” Becca Lentz said. “He saw that there was a lot of potential, but he saw that he couldn’t train us any further and we needed better training.”
Lentz handed the reins to Mark Boyes at the Evergreen Soccer Club and the team captured its first state club championship
“That was the core group and we just made little changes every year since then,” Head said.
Evergreen Soccer Club became Washington Rush and Somoza took over coaching duties before the girls’ junior year in high school. When they plugged a few roster holes by adding players that were attracted to the level of success the team had already attained, the team went from good to great.
Everett High School’s Makaela Nellams was one of those late additions to the team after playing with a different club. Nellams will play at Purdue University in the fall.
“At first I was kind of intimidated because (before) I was on a team where I was the main player,” Nellams said. “Playing with other good people made me work harder and become a better player, so I like how competitive it is.”
For the most part, there are no stars on this team full of high-school stars, but the closest thing might be Jackson’s Cara Wegner, who is the only player that will attend a school from the Pacific-12 Conference — the University of Oregon. Wegner led the Timberwolves in scoring and is one of the most explosive scorers on the Rush.
“She can really change the temperature of the game by just her dribbling and her influence and scoring,” Somoza said. “We played a top tournament in San Diego, playing against the nation’s best players and Cara scored three goals in two of the games. When you have a player like that good things are going to happen.”
Each of the girls have soccer in common, but many have different academic goals, which will spread them around the country on soccer teams and schools of varying rigor.
Glacier Peak’s Louisa Pendergast signed with Division III Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh because it is one of the top academic schools in the country especially for her intended major, psychology.
“I didn’t focus on the soccer aspect,” Pendergast said. “I wanted more of a vigorous class schedule where I could pair it with good soccer.”
Whereas proximity was a more important factor for Kamiak’s Lauren Luke, who will attend Gonzaga with Lentz, who she calls her best friend thanks to all the years playing together on the Rush. Luke is more driven by soccer and wanted to be able to play the game she loves in front of her family as much as possible.
“One of my biggest dreams is going and playing for the (United States) national team,” Luke said. “That’s always been a dream of mine. College was always a step to getting there.”
Before the girls head their mostly separate ways to college, they have another chance to win the state club championship in May and will play their final tournament together in June.
“I’m going to miss everyone so much when we all leave for college,” Head said. “These are my best friends.”
Kelly Gould, Archbishop Murphy
Kris Nelson, Ferndale
Eastern Washington (D-I)
Lauren Luke, Kamiak
Becca Lentz, Marysville PIlchuck
Stephanie Conard, Archbishop Murphy
Seattle U (D-I)
Makaela Nellams, Everett
Cara Wegner, Jackson
Miranda Head, Lakewood
Cal State San Bernadino (D-II)
Ashley Saracino, Lake Stevens
Central Washington (D-II)
Taylor Hauck, King’s
Seattle Pacific (D-II)
Louisa Pendergast, Glacier Peak
Carnegie Mellon (D-III)
Jessie Murphy, Jackson