SNOHOMISH — The Snohomish girls soccer team has been on opposite ends of the spectrum the past two postseasons.
In 2016, the Panthers entered the Class 3A Northwest District tournament as underdogs after finishing seventh in Wesco 3A. Snohomish then rattled off three consecutive playoff wins to reach the district championship and punch its ticket to state.
Last year, the Panthers were the favorites after claiming the Wesco 3A crown with a 10-1-1 conference record. But Snohomish struggled in the district tournament, falling short of state after two shutout losses in three postseason matches.
“Last year did not end up how we were hoping, especially how we set ourselves up,” Panthers coach April VanAssche said. “… Getting the taste of state (in 2016) and not getting there last year, I think was very disappointing.
“But I think that’s really going to help us this year. It’s kind of been a driving force.”
After returning 13 players from last year’s conference-championship team, the Panthers are eyeing another season full of victories — and a deeper postseason run.
“We definitely want to redeem ourselves from losing (in district),” junior forward Gracie VanAssche said. “… That was a big bummer for us, so we want to come back and go farther this year.”
This year’s Snohomish team includes a talented junior class that began playing together at age 9 on a club team coached by April VanAssche. She said their experience playing together greatly benefits the Panthers, helping form a bond and knowledge of each others’ skills that typically take much longer for high school teams to develop.
“I think that’s one of the hardest things (in) high school soccer, because you have all the different age groups and everybody kind of shows up in the fall and you’ve got to figure all that out,” April VanAssche said.
“And because this junior group is so large and has been playing together since they were little, they don’t have to go through some of those trials and errors. They kind of already know what to expect from each other.”
Several players also mentioned how a recent trip to Camp Casey on Whidbey Island helped forge a closer bond among the entire team. The Panthers spent several days on the island a couple of weeks ago, practicing multiple times a day and engaging in a variety of team-building activities. It’s a preseason trip the program typically makes once every two years.
“That kind of bonded everyone together, because you’re not with your parents, you’re not with your siblings — you’re just with your team, and it’s like (they) are family,” sophomore Bree Nichols said. “That really bonded us, and I think it plays into how we play on the field. Having that experience, now you trust (your teammates) so much more.
“We all play for each other,” she added. “We’re all very unified.”
That unity is particularly key for a Panthers team that captured the conference title last season despite having just two first-team All-Wesco 3A selections.
“I don’t know if we have that one player that anybody’s going to want to mark out,” April VanAssche said. “And I’m kind of happy about that, because it means we have a whole bunch of talent everywhere on the field. … We’re not going to be looking to one player. We’re looking to all 11 on the field, which is good.”
Protecting the net for Snohomish this year is senior goalkeeper Elle Everett, who is back with the program after missing last season.
“Elle is going to be huge for us this year,” April VanAssche said. “The girls have really latched onto that confidence she has and kind of being the control in the back there.”
Senior Maileena Dicken and junior Gracie Winders anchor a Panthers defense that allowed just eight goals in 12 conference matches last season.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing what my center backs do together,” April VanAssche said. “They’re very strong, they complement each other with different strengths and I think they’re going to be a pair to reckon with.”
Juniors Ravyn Mummey and Jenna Schuler lead a versatile midfield that provides an extra layer to an already-strong defense.
“(Our midfielders) have played a lot of defense in their lives and (are) now utilizing that in our midfield,” April VanAssche said. “So I think it gives us kind of an extra strength in that they can play both sides of the ball well.”
Snohomish’s speedy attack is highlighted by Nichols and senior forward Taylor Khorrami, who were the Panthers’ leading goal scorers last year.
“We’re blessed with so much speed that it really gives us a lot of different options,” April VanAssche said.
And with so much returning talent, Snohomish is hungry for redemption after last year’s disappointing finish.
“They want to come back and prove to themselves more than anybody — but also (to) the other teams in the league — that we’re capable of more than what we did last year,” April VanAssche said.
“They don’t want to just get through Wesco this year,” she added. “They have their eyes set on bigger and better, and not settling for anything less than that.”