Kailin Wiley was burned out.
The former all-state standout at Kamiak High School didn’t want to play soccer anymore because of myriad injuries and a lack of motivation. She was accepted at Washington State University, applied for her dormitory and received her roommate assignment. The game, she thought, was in her rear-view mirror.
But at the last minute, she had a change of heart. Instead of WSU, she enrolled at Edmonds Community College and joined the women’s soccer team.
The Tritons’ first-year coach, Adam Fenster, helped convince Wiley to give the game another try.
“I just said, ‘Gosh, you’re too good of a player to stop.’ You really need to keep playing the game and I’ll help you as much as I can to push you to the next level,” Fenster said. “Even if it’s one year and you go somewhere else, that’s great.”
Led by Wiley and a host of other impact freshman, the Tritons have experienced an impressive turnaround this fall. After winning just two games last season, Edmonds is 9-4-2 and will play in the Northwest Athletic Conference Championships for the first time since 2014.
Fenster, who was an assistant with Edmonds last season, was told by Victoria Hunter, a Kamiak grad and a sophomore defender for Edmonds, that Wiley planned to hang up her cleats for good. That’s when his full-fledged recruiting pitch began.
Wiley enjoyed a prolific career at Kamiak, earning All-Wesco 4A honors all four seasons and first-team all-state accolades as a junior. But a torn meniscus derailed her club season as a junior, the most fertile time for college recruiting.
After her senior year at Kamiak, Wiley was dealing with even more nagging injuries in her legs and missed the first portion of the club season. Her club coaches told her she could return whenever she wanted to, but she didn’t.
“It’s not that I didn’t like it, I’ve always loved the game,” Wiley said. “I would say I was more just worn out. Playing it your whole life and year round, it does that to you.”
Still, Fenster’s pitch intrigued Wiley. She didn’t want to wonder what could have been.
“My thought process was, if I go to Edmonds and I hate soccer still or I don’t want to continue to play, I can go to WSU in the spring or the following year,” Wiley said. “But just that unsure moment of not knowing if I would go onto the next level or love the game, I just didn’t want to chance that.”
Her decision to continue playing has paid off handsomely for the Tritons. Wiley is fourth in the NWAC in goals with 16 and fifth in points (39). She’s receiving interest from NCAA Division II schools, most notably Western Washington and Florida Southern.
Sending kids to four-year programs is at the crux of Fenster’s recruiting pitch. He and assistant coach Val Seid have coached at four-year programs — Fenster was the head coach at Evergreen State College from 2010-2016, and Seid coached at Northwest University in Kirkland from 2013-2015.
“We knew that with our background, we could help them move on,” Fenster said. “We can make contact with other coaches and say, ‘Hey, we have this player that might be able to play with your team or at your level.’ … That’s a big part of it, knowing that we are going to be proactive in getting you seen. Even before the kids step on the field, I want to know where they want to go next year, so I can start that process and help them.”
Fenster’s roster is loaded with freshmen from Snohomish County. In addition to Wiley the group includes defenders Lexi Ramirez (Lake Stevens), Emily Webb (Mountlake Terrace) and KC Gonzalez (Sultan); midfielder Jazmin Nunez (Edmonds Woodway); forwards Mariah Davis (Meadowdale), Julia Hart (Mountlake Terrace) and Alexis Griggs (Sultan); and goalkeeper Samantha Miller-Foy, who attended Holy Names but hails from Edmonds.
Alex Modica, the team’s sophomore captain, went to Shorewood.
“You know the talent is in the area, and it’s really going out and finding them — the kids that may not know where they want to go yet and bringing them in,” Fenster said. “And it’s cool to see them all together. It’s cool to bring them together and turn this program around. And, yeah, it means a lot. It’s exciting to me.”
With the influx of talent, the team chemistry is stronger and more cohesive than last year.
“It’s tough to motivate a team when all you’re doing is losing and it’s tough to see some light when you’re in the fog constantly,” Fenster said. “And that caused problems. It caused some intrasquad animosity, in that ‘Are you putting in the effort?’ and ‘Are you trying as hard as you can.’”
Modica said Fenster’s youthful disposition has been integral to revitalizing the culture.
“He always tells us, if he could play, he would. Throw on a wig and a jersey or something,” Modica said. “He’s like a kid and it’s like he’s our teammate as well, not just our coach.”
With two regular-season games remaining — at Skagit Valley on Wednesday and home against Peninsula on Saturday — the Tritons are tied with Whatcom for second in the NWAC North Region. Holding on to that No. 2 seed would allow Edmonds to host a game in the first round of playoffs.
When did the Tritons realize they had turned things around? It was a 1-1 draw with Peninsula on Sept. 22 — the only blemish this season for the powerful Pirates (12-0-1). Last year, Peninsula waxed Edmonds, 11-0.
Oh, how far the Tritons have come.
“It’s definitely improved our confidence, especially from last year,” Modica said. “There was no team chemistry. I would call some of these girls my best friends now. It’s a huge turnaround, and I’m glad to be a part of it.”