The suffocating defense that’s on display when the Edmonds-Woodway girls soccer team takes the pitch isn’t just the team’s calling card — it’s an expectation.
The Wesco 3A champions have led the conference in goals allowed in each of the past three seasons — holding teams to a league-record two scores in 12 games in 2016 — and have allowed seven or fewer goals in conference play the past four seasons.
Pair the squad’s stifling defense with an offensive attack that’s averaged 2.6 goals per game against Wesco 3A opponents since 2015, and you’ve got the formula for a perennial league title contender that’s just four years removed from a Class 3A state championship.
“It took a few years to get to a spot where we’re sitting on top of the conference on a regular basis,” Warriors coach Bill LeCompte said. “And now that we’re here, I think there’s an expectation that (the players) are going to carry on the tradition of what we’ve done.
“I think there’s a sense of pride in continuing on what we’ve accomplished.”
The players have certainly bought into the lofty expectations the program has created for itself.
“We hold ourselves up to high standards,” senior Juliet Hufford said. “We’ve had the least goals scored on us in Wesco for three years, so we’ve kind of gotta keep it up. We can’t back down now.”
Indeed, the Warriors kept it up.
Led by an experienced defense in front of freshman goalkeeper Jessica Emerson, E-W (14-2-0 overall, 13-1-0 Wesco 3A) allowed a league-best six goals in conference play and recorded 10 shutouts.
And it was commonplace to see Warriors defenders sacrifice their bodies for the greater good of the team throughout the season.
“They’re committed to walk around with bruises and knowing they helped their teammates out,” LeCompte said. “Jessica has done a great job in goal, but I also look at it and say that the defense in front of her has done a good job of making sure she hasn’t had to deal with too much.”
“We’ve always had hard-working kids,” he added. “And I think that’s a tribute to parents that raise kids right and try to help them understand that, if you work your hardest and put everything out on the line, anything is possible.”
Building a bond
Whether it’s on the field or in the classroom, chemistry and bonds go hand in hand.
And years of sharing the field has built a strong camaraderie between the players on an experienced Edmonds-Woodway team that features 17 players in their junior or senior seasons.
“We definitely have very good team chemistry,” senior midfielder Gaby Chapell said. “And it really translates on the field. We’re friends outside of soccer, too.”
The chemistry allows the Warriors to fluently communicate on the field, which Hufford said is one of the biggest keys to the defensive success of this season’s team.
“We’re very connected to each other. We’re all very good friends. So we’re constantly talking to each other,” Hufford said. “We need that bond to be a good defense. … If we’re not communicating, than the defense won’t be connected and we won’t be (as good).”
Along with the improved communication, the strong bond between players helps emphasize a team-first attitude that allows any player to be the star of any given game.
“We’ve got a group that’s been around each other for a while,” LeCompte said “… It seems to be someone new every night that’s going to step it up and make it difficult for the opponent.”
It also allows the players to lean on each other when adversity hits, such as it did when E-W came back to beat Shorecrest 3-2 earlier this month after trailing 2-0 with 20 minutes to go in the game.
“They draw on each other for strength and confidence,” LeCompte said. “… We’ve bailed ourselves out a couple times.They just choose to work really hard.”
Someone to learn from
The Warriors’ players have had a number of standout players to practice against, play alongside and learn from as underclassmen.
With the likes of Division-I players Madison Schultz and Ashleigh Fonsen, impenetrable forces in front of the net like Hannah Hicks and Kiera Towell, and several other all-league selections that have passed through the program — the girls at Edmonds-Woodway have borne witness to many positive role models on the field.
“These girls have grown up watching it,” LeCompte said. “And now it’s kind of there turn to step into it.”
“They know this is what it looks like (to see high-caliber players),” LeCompte said. “And that’s a great thing for younger players to look up to older players and emulate. … It can only make you better.”
Hufford said she learned a lot from playing with two-time all-league defender Kia Mackey.
“I kind of looked up to her because she was so strong at defense,” Hufford said. “So I try and hold myself up to her standard and be as strong and dependable as she is.”
Early bumps in the road
The Warriors set a goal before the season started to allow 10 goals or fewer throughout the regular season, which looked like a longshot six games into the 16-game slate.
After holding solid teams from Kamiak and Snohomish to a goal apiece, the Warriors pitched a pair of shutouts and were on pace to allow just eight goals.
Then they ran into a high-powered Squalicum offense that handed E-W its first loss. The Warriors’ defense allowed a season-worst three goals.
“It was definitely an eye opener,” Chappell said. “There were some things we needed to change: organization, communication and if we had players missing who was going to step into those shoes. But it also just motivated us to not give up any more games like that and work on our defense.”
The team followed the loss by battling out a 3-2 win over Arlington, bringing the Warriors’ goals against total to seven over six games with 10 matches remaining.
E-W went on to record eight shutouts in its final 10 games, allowing more than one goal only once, and finished with exactly 10 goals allowed.
“I feel like a lot of people are scared about us,” Hufford said. “Because we don’t have a lot of goals scored against us.
‘A whole new league’
Chappell said the team is happy with its conference title and other achievements this season, but that’s in the rear-view mirror for the Warriors as they prepare for the Class 3A Northwest District tournament.
“We’re going through (the playoffs) like it’s a whole new league,” Chappell said.
Since dropping to 3A prior to the 2014 season, E-W has won three of four district tournaments and recorded 10 shutouts along the way.
The top-seeded Warriors host rival Meadowdale Saturday at 1 p.m.
The No. 2 seed in the tournament is Squalicum, and E-W wouldn’t mind a shot at revenge with a district title on the line.
“We’re excited to see them again,” Chappell said. “We’ve all talked about it. I feel like we didn’t put our best foot forward in the last game. So we’re excited to show them who we really are.”