Girls soccer: Talent-laden SPSL North will be battle from beginning to end

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.

  • BY Wire Service
  • Friday, September 12, 2008 2:38pm
  • Sports
Kentwood’s Kiana Kraft (left) and Kentlake’s Katherine Miccile are two of the South Puget Sound League North Division’s top-returning players this fall.

Kentwood’s Kiana Kraft (left) and Kentlake’s Katherine Miccile are two of the South Puget Sound League North Division’s top-returning players this fall.

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. Because neither team, both of whom 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 Thomas 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.”

GIRLS SOCCER: AT A GLANCE

• FAVORITE: Kentwood, Auburn Riverside.

• CONTENDERS: Tahoma, Thomas Jefferson, Federal Way.

• SLEEPERS: Kentlake, Kentridge, Auburn, Kent-Meridian.

• OUTLOOK: While all the fall sports will be plenty affected by the South Puget Sound League North Division’s re-shuffling, soccer might feel the greatest impact. Fans needn’t look any further than Auburn Riverside to understand why. The Ravens won the SPSL 3A title last fall, posting a 10-1-3 record, three wins and seven points ahead of second-place Bonney Lake. In two years at the Class 3A level, the Ravens posted an impressive league mark of 22-5-6 and were one of the North’s top teams in 2005, the last time Auburn Riverside was part of the division. In addition, the Ravens return four first-team all-leaguers (forwards Megan Amis, Chase Lane and Ariell Swan along with midfielder Janelle Kavanaugh) and two honorable mention selections. That said, the North still runs through Kentwood, which returns more than its share of talented players, led by sophomore sensation Kiana Kraft (midfield), junior Rachel Bindl (defense, goalkeeper Courtney Johnson and midfielder Jolene Crook-Meyers. As always, however, Tahoma and its tradition-laden program, can never be overlooked. The same can be said for Thomas Jefferson, though the Raiders remain a bit young this fall and have graduated 96 percent of their scoring punch over the past two years. Regardless, this division remains stacked from top to bottom. If three teams qualified for state from the North, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise.

• NOTABLE: Talk about a league deep in talent. The SPSL North returns a total of 18 players who made either first team, second team or honorable mention all-league a year ago. And that doesn’t include the wealth of talent Auburn and Auburn Riverside will bring in, which would push the list to 26 deep. ... Kentwood product Abby Brauer, the co-MVP of the North Division last year, now is playing at Northwest University. Brauer isn’t alone among 2008 Kentwood graduates now playing at college as Kelsey Jenkins (Seattle Pacific University), Jenny Moore (University of Puget Sound) and Kristen Drobny (Montana State) all have taken the step up. ... Kyle Jones has taken over at Kentlake for Shena Mouring. Jones led the Kentlake boys team to a playoff berth last spring. ... Kentridge’s Brooke Yokers, the co-MVP of the North a year ago, is now playing at Seattle Pacific University. ... Kentridge’s Kylee Abbott, a second-teamer on defense last year, did not turn out this fall.

• CAN’T-MISS GAMES: Sept. 9 — Kentlake at Jefferson. The Falcons are clearly a team on the rise. This season opener against a traditional playoff contender should give the Kentlake team an early idea of what lies in store. Oct. 2 — Kentwood at Auburn Riverside. These two teams could combine for one explosive, all-league juggernaut. Expect a tight, down-to-the-wire battle. Oct. 23 — Auburn at Auburn Riverside. Fans can never go wrong with an all-city showdown. Oct. 25 — Tahoma at Auburn Riverside. With just two games remaining on the schedule after this one, plenty of postseason seeding could — and should — be on the line. Oct. 30 — Kentridge at Jefferson. The regular-season finale, one that could decide who goes on and who goes home for the offseason.

— Erick Walker/The Reporter


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