It wasn’t that long ago that the fall sports season was a dark, dreary place for Cascade High School athletics.
There was very little Bruin pride spread throughout the school’s campus in South Everett as many fall sports teams were at best an afterthought and at worst a doormat for the rest of the Wesco teams, all of which seemed to be advancing to district and state playoffs, while the Bruins watched.
In 2009 the Cascade girls soccer team was overmatched, with nine freshmen on varsity — six of which were forced into starting duty. The Bruins managed to win just three games that season. The girls swimming and football teams were also lacking highlights as the class of 2013 entered the school. As tough as the times were, the seeds of success were being planted by Bruin coach Jamie Gay, now in his 19th year. After taking the Bruins to the postseason nine straight years his program hit a low, but he knew that it would get back.
“That’s what this group wanted,” Gay said. “To get back to the playoffs and keep Cascade here.”
It has been a hard-fought battle, but Cascade has climbed from the cellar to near the pinnacle of girls soccer. This past Thursday the Bruins captured the 4A District 1 championship, earning the right to host a state tournament game tonight against Puyallup at 7 p.m. at Everett Memorial Stadium. A win against the Vikings coupled with two more would mean a trip to the state title game, where the Bruins were with Gay at the helm in 2002.
However, the team had to go through quite a bit of growing pains to get where it is today.
“We won three games our freshman year,” three-year captain Sarah Jenkins said. “It was horrible. Every single (opponent) is bigger than you. They are beating you to every ball. You are trying as hard as you can. You want to win for your school but we were so little and had no experience.”
Jenkins, who has committed to play soccer next year at Norwest Nazarene, has been perhaps the strongest most consistent Bruin over the years, but even she had doubts that the team could turn it around.
“Getting killed freshman year, it was almost like, ‘I don’t want to play anymore (high school),’ ” said Jenkins, who considered just playing for her club soccer team Northwest Nationals.
But Gay kept the faith and continued to foster the growth of the team that increased its win total every year despite playing with two seniors in 2010 and none in 2011. A year ago the Bruins nearly made the playoffs, tying for the final spot from Wesco, but dropping a penalty kick decision to Kamiak. But you could see the growth.
“Each year I think we just wanted it more and more,” said Denae Weigelt, who is the team’s leading scorer with 13 goals on the season. “We just kept putting in more hours.”
The hours paid off this season as Cascade has racked up 14 victories and suffered just one loss — in the second game of the season — as well as three ties.
There have been quite a few ingredients that have added up to team success.
The Bruins have done it with a stifling defense, yielding more than one goal just once — in a 4-0 loss to Edmonds-Woodway Sept. 6. Part of that is a back four — consisting of Emily Nelson, Mikayla Whitton, Kayley Soros and Hannah Dowdell — that has been able to attack and take risks because the individual players know each other’s game so well. It’s impossible to overlook Rachel Leupold, who has recorded 12 shutouts on the season. But it’s not just experience and Xs and Os.
“It’s our passion,” Jenkins said. “We have so much drive.”
The team has bonded as much as a team can, over prayer, over the school lunch table, over hanging out on weekends and over cleaning and decorating their own locker room.
“That’s definitely the best part,” Jenkins said. “It’s really a family. Soccer practice makes my day better, which it didn’t freshman year.”
As good as the season has been this year and as sure that the team was going into it that they would make the playoffs, winning the district crown has been a bit of a surprise.
The team just aimed to win the Wesco South.
“We never expected it,” Jenkins said.
One key to the team’s success was moving Weigelt from defense where she played the first three years to forward. Weigelt took to the change immediately and took the scoring lead (13 goals) from Rachel Detroit (a Trinity Lutheran commit), who led the team the previous two years, but is second this year with nine goals.
“She was super excited to do it and she has really added another element of speed and scoring to our game,” Gay said of Weigelt’s switch.
In addition, Weigelt takes all the corner kicks and also leads the team with nine assists.
“That’s my strongpoint just being fast I guess,” She said. “It’s fun being chased for once rather than being on the defensive side.”
Weigelt has shown ultimate versatility this year, jumping back to the defense side to play goalie in the team’s 1-0 playoff win over Kamiak this past Tuesday with Leupold out due to illness.
“It was scary,” Weigelt said. “We knew that we had a game to win that night. That’s just another bump in the road and we’ll just take it as it comes and we did.”
The girls soccer team was the first to turn positive for Cascade, but now the other sports are following. After losing 25 straight games over the past two years the football team went 5-5 this year and the girls swimming team was undefeated in dual meets on the way to a league championship.
Suddenly, it’s cool and a point of pride to walk the halls as a Bruin.
“We’ve had a lot of support from our school and that’s one of the coolest things,” Jenkins said. “Cascade didn’t really have anything to be proud of and this year I’ve heard from other students that we’ve inspired other students to have pride. It’s great to be able to play for a school and give them something to look forward to.”
Gay agrees. “The family atmosphere and pride that not only the soccer team has for each other, but more the Bruin pride for sports. That camaraderie has been huge to the team’s success,” he said. “Certainly having a large group of seniors who have grown up together helps.”
State girls soccer
With districts over, all of the girls soccer state tournaments begin this week. Here’s a look at the first-round games for local teams:
Cascade vs. Puyallup, at Everett Memorial Stadium, tonight at 7 p.m.
Snohomish vs. Tahoma at Tahoma H.S., Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.
Meadowdale vs. Bainbridge at Edmonds Stadium, Wednesday, 7 p.m.
Shorecrest vs. Liberty at Liberty Stadium, Wednesday, 7 p.m.
Everett vs. Kennedy at Highline Memorial Stadium, Wednesday, 7 p.m.
Archbishop Murphy vs. Tumwater at Tumwater H.S., tonight, 7 p.m.
King’s vs. Montesano at Woolsey Stadium, Wednesday, 7 p.m.