High school soccer, by and large, is a lot of kick-and-run-style soccer. So watching Gig Harbor High School senior Kaysie Bruce, a University of Idaho commit, control the ball at her feet and juke defenders with ease is a treat.
And Gig Harbor’s coach, Stephanie Cox, who played professionally and made appearances for the United States Women’s National Team, believes Bruce’s technical ability will make her successful in college.
“To play at the next level, it can’t be kick-and-run,” Cox said. “I think Kaysie really sets the tone for that in the midfield. She can really combine with players.”
Bruce’s confidence on the ball began at a young age, when she embraced Coerver, a global program inspired by the teachings of Weil Coerver that teaches ball skills and 1-on-1 moves.
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“It’s tactics for your feet, foot skill, first touches, getting the ball down,” Bruce said. “It’s a lot of feet and ball. I like being composed on the ball. It’s easy since I’ve done it from a young age.”
Now, in her senior year, Bruce figures to be the creative focal point of Gig Harbor’s attack. Cox’s challenge for her this season? Play even faster.
“She just has to decide things sooner, play things quicker,” Cox said. “That means people around her moving earlier and her trusting them with the ball.”
Bruce should have plenty of speed to work with in the attack, with the Tides returning blazing-fast forward Leahi Manthei, who Bruce enjoys a good rapport with. Bruce’s style of controlling possession and pushing forward through the middle of the field complements Manthei’s style of speeding down the flanks nicely.
“If I’m underneath her, I can play her little through balls that she can just sprint onto,” Bruce said. “I sit back more and get the rebounds and let her do her thing.”
It’s a combination that helped Gig Harbor reach the Class 4A state tournament last season. And Bruce’s skills caught the eye of several colleges as well. She committed to Idaho last spring. The Vandals employ a 4-4-2 formation with a diamond midfield, which suits Bruce’s skillset.
“It seemed like the best fit for me, soccer-wise,” Bruce said. “Just the formation they play, is a lot like how I like to attack. It’s more central, so teams have to go around us, instead of through us. I like that because it’s defending as a group. The coaching staff is amazing. They’re just great people in general.”
And being an outdoors enthusiast made the idea of going to school in Moscow too hard to pass up.
“I like having all four seasons,” Bruce said. “There’s a ton to do there.”
Cox takes over as the sole head coach of the girls program. Last year, she split duties with longtime boys coach Todd Northstrom.
“It was nice to have that transition year,” Cox said. “There’s a lot to manage on and off the field. Scheduling, fundraising, gear and equipment — just details to make sure are all taken care of. As a player, you’re kind of spoiled. Everything is taken care of for you.”
Cox, who played as a defender professionally, focused mostly on coaching the back line last season. She’s enjoying having full autonomy this season.
“I think it’s nice to have it all, so there can be some symmetry to coach both sides of the ball,” Cox said.
Gig Harbor enters the Class 3A South Sound Conference this season. Cox is hoping to maintain a high level of play regardless of who the opponent is on any given day.
“I don’t think we were really prepared for the playoffs last year,” she said. “I don’t think our league prepared us to play Skyline. They were so technical in their movements off the ball. It was so fast. Our midfield was kind of shell-shocked. It was hard for us to get a handle on that game. I hope I can keep that in the back of their minds during the season: ‘OK, this is our target. This is the speed of play that we want no matter the opponent.’”