Pirates girls’ soccer heads to the state tournament

The Pirates owe much of their post-season success to their stingy defense with two consecutive shut-outs.

The VHS Pirates fought through the back door to win the Nisqually State Championship Berth last Saturday.

In a cold and windy “do-or-die” playoff game in Tacoma, the pirates faced Bellevue Christian Vikings for the remaining seed in the fall state tournament.

The Vikings had knocked out the Pirates at this stage last year (and the year before), but this year, things were different.

“We knew what needed to happen and pulled together to get the job done,” said Junior captain Linnea Heuschert. “We are all thrilled!”

The Pirates were playing into a stiff wind in the first half and had to keep the ball on the turf to repel the Vikings’ attack.

“It was exhausting, the wind was so strong we would build it up and then they would knock it long and back we had to go,” said Senior Myra Butler.

The Pirates anchored their midfield with a triangle that has been finding some great combinations and success. Sophomore Besa Hruska plays on top, with Juniors Olivia Boyes and Heuschert anchoring in the defensive midfield.

“We’ve been working on moving the ball across the field laterally and this has really started to click,” said Hruska.

Bellevue has a very crafty midfielder and containing her was a real battle. The first half was a nail-biter as the Pirates kept their shape and defended wave after wave of long-ball attacks.

“I could hardly contain myself, I was so nervous,” said injured Senior captain Leah Gross. After breaking her collarbone in a match a few weeks ago, Gross has continued to lead by example, attending all the practices and games and cheering on her teammates.

“She so embodies the spirit of the team,” said an assistant coach.

The Pirates owe much of their post-season success to their stingy defense with two consecutive shut-outs.

“Ivy [Staczek] has been such a rock in goal, we all feel so much confidence when she comes out and cleans house,” said junior teammate Kate Spranger.

Spranger, who along with Alana Bass and Lila Cohen are the backs, taking care of the opponents’ top strikers.

“We’ve really been pushing up and playing a flatter back formation,” said Meah McInerney, who anchors the Pirates’ defense. We’re getting tough to score on now because we’re starting to catch their attack in offside position…it is so much fun.”

With a score of 0-0 at halftime, the Pirates had the wind at their backs for the second half of the Bellevue Christian game — when their attack started to shine. The Pirates drove the ball laterally and slotted the ball to senior Hanifa Khidr time after time. Khidr played fabulously and made penetrating runs over and over in the Pirates’ 1-0 victory over a stubborn Annie Wright team on a rainy Thursday night.

“Hanifa really knows when to release and cut inside — we have to be hitting her with that diagonal pass and she just slays them on the outside,” said the Pirate’s head coach, Scott Nicolino.

The Pirates have Alex Waterworth and Zoe Nowicki executing the same run on the left side.

The Pirates have implemented a new dimension in sending through defender Alana Bass into the attack.”Alana is so fast, it is almost comical. She just absolutely runs though everyone,” said Waterworth.

Two such runs erupted mid-way through the second half, almost resulting in a blow-out lead for the Pirates. However, it was late in the second half when Mallory Keenan received the ball on her foot, beat her defender and buried a shot from 20 yards out to seal the Pirate victory and pave an on-ramp to the State Tournament.

Keenan, playing through a stress fracture in her foot, has been grinding through weeks of re-hab to make this possible. She also got the game-winner against Annie Wright.

“This is why we need Mallory on this team,” said Nicolino. “She really delivered for us again today.”

The Pirates have now found their stride. Before the season, the girls set a goal of making the state tournament and scaring Klahowya(the #1 State seed) — also from our Nisqually district. On both accounts, the Pirates have achieved their goals.

These Vashon teams don’t form by accident. This started years ago with Vashon Island Soccer Club coach Nick Keenan, who brought at least half of this squad through their elementary and middle-school years. It reflects years of practice and countless hours working with teams throughout rain, cold, sun and even snow. Thank you, Nick, and congratulations for mentoring such a great group of kids.

The Pirates are now seeded #14 in the state and face the #3 Lynden Christian Lyons on Wednesday, Nov 9.

We are all proud of the Vashon girls making it back to the State Tournament. Great job girls…the whole community is behind you!

John Thomas is a volunteer high school coach.