SNOHOMISH — The Snohomish girls soccer team has had a total of four freshmen the previous three seasons. The Panthers are making up for that lack of youth this year. Of the 21 players listed on the varsity roster, nine of them are freshmen.
The Panthers may be loaded with youth, but the goal of advancing out of districts to the state playoffs remains the same.
“My expectation is definitely getting to postseason and I don’t see that we’ll have a problem with that,” Snohomish head coach April VanAssche said. “Granted there are a lot of unknowns, but that has been kind of our expectations that we’ve already discussed as a team. They seem focused and determined and I have no doubts that they’ll get there.”
The Panthers have been a senior-heavy team the past three seasons, which opened up a lot of spots for this year’s freshmen. But they had to earn their spots on the varsity roster and right away, VanAssche knew she had something special.
“This year’s freshmen class came in with a lot of skill and were very competitive,” VanAssche said. “For freshmen, they showed up every day with confidence and not too nervous to take on the upperclassmen and show us what they were made of. That kind of stood out to us right away from the first day of tryouts.”
With the experience the Panthers had the last three seasons came a lot of success. They’ve made the playoffs in each of the past three seasons and advanced to state once. In order for that success to continue as they move down from 4A to 3A, the five seniors on the team will have to help the youngsters adjust to the high school game — both mentally and physically.
“It’s a little scary because there’s not a lot of experience, but on the other hand what we’ve been talking to our seniors about is having so many freshmen on the team that are basically sponges right now,” VanAssche said. “They’re going to follow the lead of the seniors. I think for high school girls soccer, the teams that do the best are just the teams that flat out believe that they can. With so many young players, they just come in and think that they can do anything and I think that is going to work to our advantage.
“I’m going to rely on my upperclassmen as well as my senior class,” VanAssche added. “I have confidence in them being strong leaders as well as strong players, any learning curves that we have I’m going to kind of rely on them and hope that they can carry us through.”
According to VanAssche, the older players on the team accepted their leadership role almost immediately.
“Once we announced the teams and they saw how many freshmen we had, everybody had kind of a little laugh about it and then the seniors just stepped up right away,” VanAssche said. “They made sure that the freshmen felt comfortable and they’ve gone out of their way this past week to make sure everyone is an equal part of the team.”
Playing the role of mentor has been a new experience for senior midfielder Quinn Otteson.
“It’s been different because I’m a very outgoing person, I don’t want to say the word immature, but I’m very similar to a freshman,” Otteson said. “I think it’s been good for me to have to do that. They’re all very good freshmen who listen and really look up to us seniors.”
When the Panthers opened their season against crosstown rival Glacier Peak, a game which ended in a 2-1 loss, VanAssche said some of the players that were most impressive by game’s end were the freshmen, but the game didn’t start out that way.
“The first half looked like we had a lot of young girls out there playing (and they were) nervous,” VanAssche said. “The second half, what I told them after the game was that I couldn’t have been more proud of the way they finished. That mattered a lot more to me than how we started. It looked like everybody kind of calmed down and started playing a little bit better team ball.”
The older players on the team believe in the younger group and said having so many freshmen could benefit the team in other ways going into league play.
“I think it’s a good thing,” Otteson said. “Teams are going to think lower of us and we’re going to go out there and crush them because they’re underestimating our freshman and how good they actually are, so I think that will help us going in to games.”
Defender Mackenzie Green, one of the team’s nine freshmen, sees it the same way.
“This team has been very open to accepting us and a lot of teams will underestimate us because we have a lot of freshmen,” Green said. “I know a lot of my friends are on other teams from around the area and are like, ‘Wow, we only have one or two freshmen on our team. And we’re like, ‘Wow, we have eight or nine.’ It’s pretty cool being a freshman and being on varsity.”
The Panthers started a freshman at one of the most important spots on the field — goalkeeper. Grace Wales is the starting goalkeeper, but split time with sophomore Elle Everett in the opening game against Glacier Peak.
Wales, who is a standout soccer and softball player, has the complete confidence of her coaching staff and teammates.
“Grace has had a lot of competitive experience already between soccer and softball,” VanAssche said. “Luckily for me as far as a freshman goes, she’s coming in with a lot experience in high-pressure situations from an athletic standpoint.
“Grace seems to be a player and a person that can stay pretty composed in herself.”
Wales has taken the adjustment to being a high school goalkeeper in stride.
“The shots come in harder, but I’ve played with older girls a lot, so I was kind of prepared for it,” Wales said. “There is still pressure, but it’s just the life of a goalie.”
Joining Green and Wales as freshmen on the roster are: midfielder Megan Mobley, forward Kianna Campbell, forward Gracie VanAssche, midfielder Celia Forster, forward Gracie Winders, defender Jenna Schuler and midfielder Ravyn Mummey.
Wales showed her composure when she talked about the experience of going up against older players at tryouts.
“Even though I knew a lot of the people were freshmen that we’re trying out, you can’t really see the years on the field, you just see skills,” Wales said. “I just saw a whole bunch of skill on the field.”