MOUNTLAKE TERRACE — Natalie Cardin said there used to be motto in the Mountlake Terrace High School girls soccer program.
“We may not be the best in Wesco, but we’ll be the closest,” Cardin said.
Prior to Cardin’s freshman season the team certainly wasn’t the best in Wesco 3A/2A. In fact, it was the worst.
The Hawks finished last in the league in the 2018 and 2019 seasons. They won only one game each year. They were outscored 82-12, shutout 18 times and didn’t have a single multi-goal game over that stretch.
But the program has experienced a dramatic turnaround over the past three seasons. The Hawks won five games in the COVID-shortened spring season. They won nine games and reached the district playoffs last year for the first time since 2017. And this season Terrace is already over halfway through its regular season schedule without losing a game.
Cardin said part of that old motto stills remains true in 2022, but not the part about not being the best.
“I think that being the closest team in Wesco has really continued,” she said. “Now hopefully we can be one of the best as well.”
Terrace (7-0-2 overall, 7-0-1 league, 22 points) has indeed been one of the best teams in Wesco 3A/2A this season. Perhaps even the best.
The Hawks sport a massive 31-4 goal differential. They beat league power Snohomish for the first time in well over a decade. They held a late lead against defending Class 2A state champion Archbishop Murphy before settling for a tie. They even won a game after a red card forced them to play well over half of the matchup a player down.
They’ve recorded five shutouts, scored four or more goals four times and currently hold a one-point lead over Shorewood (7-0-0 league, 21 points) and Shorecrest (7-1-0 league, 21 points) in the conference standings.
“You always kind of hope,” Terrace coach George Dremousis said about the unbeaten start. “… Are we going to go undefeated? I’d love to think we could. We have the talent to, but you just never know because there’s some tough games out there on the schedule still. But I love where we’re at now. I can’t complain.”
Dremousis, a longtime coach of the Terrace boys team who’s also led squads at Lynnwood and Edmonds-Woodway high schools and Shoreline Community College, took over Terrace’s girls program during the COVID pandemic.
The COVID-shortened spring season in 2021 presented plenty of challenges for high school athletes and coaches. But Dremousis said taking over the team that season, despite the limited number of games and practices compared to a normal year, was a benefit.
“There was really no expectations in that shortened season,” he said. “So we kind of just came in and saw what we had. I knew the girls from class, but I had never seen them play. So that was nice for me as a coach because it was kind of a relaxed atmosphere.”
The season gave Dremousis and his coaching staff the opportunity let a strong freshman class get plenty of playing time on the varsity squad. The hope was that getting the promising group of youngsters on the field together early would create a cohesiveness for years to come.
That strategy started to pay off sooner than expected.
The Hawks posted a winning record during that spring season. They scored 23 goals in nine games, which was 11 more goals than the team scored in 30 games between the 2018 and 2019 seasons.
Terrace kept that momentum rolling last fall, reached nine wins for the first time since 2014 and earned the No. 4 seed in the Class 3A District 1 tournament.
“We always have a three-year plan,” Dremousis said. “First year be competitive when we take over, second year is we should be talking about playoffs and third year we should set the bar high and start talking about state. I think we were a little ahead of schedule last year to be honest. We had a really good season.”
The Hawks’ district run came to an abrupt end last season. Star goalkeeper Sierra Sonko, a Sacramento State University commit, suffered an injury with two games left in the regular season. She missed the district playoffs, and Terrace was eliminated in a game that came down to penalty kicks.
It was a disappointing end for the upstart program, but players said they came back this fall hungry for more and with a closer bond than ever before.
“Even from last year we just have a more personal connection not related to just soccer,” junior midfielder Laura Rice said. “We’re better friends and I think that definitely benefits the team as well.”
With many players now in their second and third year playing together on the varsity team, the connection on the pitch has become second nature.
“It’s pretty much the same girls (from last year),” Sonko said. “… We play off each other really well.”
The Hawks have a common goal this season. They want to reach the state tournament, which the program hasn’t done since 1990.
The early victory over Snohomish and the draw with Archbishop Murphy were important in showing the team it could achieve that goal.
“I’m just so proud of our team,” Cardin said. “Even though we tied (with Archbishop Murphy), I think it was a great match. … Winning our first (league) game against Snohomish, that was huge. That was a great start to the season and I think it boosted our team’s confidence.”
Sonko, a senior, is back in front of the net. She’s helped anchor a defense that allowing just 0.4 goals per contest.
“Every time I see a shot on goal I’m confident Sierra is going to save it,” Cardin said. “I couldn’t ask for anyone better back there.”
The line of defenders in front of Sonko have been stellar as well.
“They’ve really been keeping the ball away from me,” Sonko said of teammates on the back line, “which I love as a goalkeeper.”
Cardin leads the charge offensively as the lone striker in Dremousis’ 4-5-1 system. She broke on to the scene as a freshman with 10 goals and six assists during the shortened spring season. As a sophomore, she notched 16 goals and seven assists. She already has 15 goals and four assists this fall, including back-to-back five-goal games.
Dremousis said Cardin reminds him of former Terrace boys standout Bobby Stoyanov, who shattered the school’s single-season scoring record with 47 goals as a senior in 2018.
“Natalie and Bobby are those rare once-in-a-generation players where you can coach them up a little bit here and there, but realistically they just have a natural talent,” Dremousis said. “They just have a knack for finishing. It’s fun to watch.”
But as Dremousis noted, it takes more than one star scorer to sustain success against top competition. Unlike the past two seasons when Cardin scored or assisted on well over 50% of the team’s goals, the Hawks are getting offensive contributions from all over the pitch. Six different players have scored at least one goal, including five from sophomore Ava Hunt and four by Rice.
“I was just telling the girls that if you want to get to the state tournament you can’t rely on one person,” Dremousis said. “… We’re spreading it out a bit. That’s what good teams do.”
Terrace still has challenges remaining on its league schedule. The Hawks faces fourth-place Cedarcrest and Shorecrest this week, and Shorewood looms as the penultimate game of the regular season.
But Terrace is confident it can keep its banner season rolling.
“I just think we’re going to make it far this year,” Sonko said. “I’m really excited to see what our girls can do.”