Changes are afoot.
And for the girls soccer teams that now comprise the re-shuffled South Puget Sound League North Division, the numbers can be both daunting and inspiring at the same time.
But rest assured, the additions of Auburn and Auburn Riverside to the loop this fall will be felt throughout the new-look North. Neither team, both of which have moved up from 3A, can be considered a gimme on this year’s schedule.
Sure, the Trojans struggled through a subpar 2007 campaign, taking seventh in the eight-team SPSL 3A with a 3-8-3 league mark. But like the SPSL North itself, changes are in the works for the Trojans, who enjoy a turnout of 63 players, up from 27 a year ago.
“With the talent we have this year, I wish we would have stayed in the 3A to pay back some of those guys,” said Auburn coach Russ DeFord, tongue planted firmly in cheek.
In a league loaded with elite-level talent from top to bottom, payback could very well be the theme on a weekly basis.
And a good portion of that talent is a direct result of Auburn Riverside’s step up in classification. While cross-city rival Auburn clearly is on the rise, the Ravens, by many accounts, are considered one of the teams to beat.
A look down the roster is indication enough.
Though the Ravens graduated star goalkeeper Rachel Givens, the MVP in SPSL 3A a year ago, they return four first-team all-leaguers: Ariell Swan, Megan Amis, Chase Lane and Janelle Kavanaugh. That’s more than any of their SPSL North foes.
Adding to the excitement is the return of junior forward Stephanie Horibe, who missed last year with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. All Horibe did as a freshman was lead the Ravens in goals scored and earn first-team all-league honors.
“Offensively, I think we could be better than last year,” said Auburn Riverside coach Paul Lewis, whose team has qualified for state three straight years. “We have a chance to be a really dynamic offensive team.”
Of course, this isn’t a 3A league. And quite frankly, there isn’t a team on the schedule that doesn’t have at least the opportunity to be dynamic offensively.
Matter of fact, this year’s North could be stronger than in years past, which is saying something about a league that traditionally fares quite well at the state level.
For instance, Auburn Riverside isn’t the only team in the league to have qualified for state three straight years. Kentwood has done likewise for the 4A tournament. Meanwhile, Thomas Jefferson has qualified for state in two of the last three years. Then there’s Tahoma, a program that prides itself on year-in, year-out success and which has qualified for state six times in the last 10 years, winning the title twice.
Think Auburn and Auburn Riverside’s new counterparts are scared?
Not quite. More intrigued than anything else.
“In my opinion, with the realignment, we’ve added another state-level team,” said Kentwood coach Aaron Radford, who guided the Conquerors to the North title a year ago and who has 14 players returning this season. “I think the top four teams, if it plays out, could all be strong enough where a single game or tie could be what separates them at the end of the (regular) season.”
That said, the coaches throughout the league unanimously agree that Auburn Riverside deserves an especially watchful eye when the season kicks off on Tuesday.
“I have always thought that Auburn Riverside didn’t belong in 3A,” said Tahoma coach Corrine Welch, whose team graduated most of its top-tier talent, but boasts a JV program that’s traditionally the best in the league. “They’re strong and always have been strong. I think (because of the realignment) the league will be stronger this year.”
If sheer numbers are any indication, it likely will be. That’s especially true when considering the North returns 18 players who earned either first-team, second-team or honorable mention accolades a year ago. Toss in Auburn and Auburn Riverside, and that number swells to a robust 26 elite players.
On the flip side of the realignment is the loss of Decatur, a traditionally strong team that has qualified for state three times since 2000. In addition, North Division teams don’t have the luxury this fall of playing any nonleague contests, a time when many coaches like to figure out exactly what they have.
“Now, every game counts,” said Jefferson coach Wade Webber, whose team returns a pair of second-team all-leaguers in Kelsey Learned and Sasha Nevin. “There’s no soft landing. It puts an even greater premium on starting well. Things you could work on during nonleague games, now you can’t.”
That essentially gives teams with the most returners — in this case, Kentwood and Auburn Riverside — a bit of an edge. Jefferson and Tahoma have tradition on their sides, leaving Kentlake, Kent-Meridian and Kentridge as the ultimate wild cards.
Kentridge graduated nine seniors, seven of whom started a year ago. But with second-teamers Kayla Berg (midfield) and Jenae Perman (defense) returning, solid building blocks are firmly in place.
But Kentlake, under first-year coach Kyle Jones, could be the greatest wild card of all. Jones helped turn around the boys program last spring, guiding the Falcons to their first postseason berth in school history. And with the return of Ambree Forsell and Frederike Dubeau, optimism at Kentlake is at an all-time high.
“I don’t think you can look at the last three years (when the Falcons combined to go 14-20-8 in league) and base anything off of that,” Jones said. “I have really high expectations for these girls.”
• Coach: Cary Davidson, fourth year.
• Last year: The Lions finished 5-5-4 in SPSL 3A play, four points behind fourth-place Enumclaw.
• Top returners (Name, year, position): Kelley Voss, sr., defense; Danica Collop, sr., midfielder; Brooke Reed, sr., midfielder; Kristin Herren, jr., defense; Deanna Colburn, jr., goalkeeper; Brianne Wills, jr., defense; Ali Clarkson, jr., midfielder; Hannah Morse, jr., forward; Hillary Frett, so., midfielder.
• Outlook: If it wasn’t for a two-game losing streak to end last season, the Lions very well could have found themselves in the playoffs. Regardless, this year’s team returns plenty of talent, led by second-team all-leaguer Morse, who delivered five goals and three assists a year ago. In addition, having Colburn back in goal will only make this group stronger. Colburn notched four shutouts last season as a sophomore.
• Notable: Auburn Mountainview product Kirsten Fausko, a first-team midfielder a year ago, now is playing at Eastern Washington University. … With Auburn and Auburn Riverside moving up to the Class 4A SPSL North, the Lions no longer have an inner-city rival. Instead, Auburn Mountainview will play in the new-look SPSL 3A, that includes Clover Park, Enumclaw, Sumner, Lakes, Peninsula, Bonney Lake, Franklin Pierce and White River.