Gig Harbor graduated its top goal scorers from a season ago in Seattle University freshman Leahi Manthei and Idaho University freshman Kaysie Bruce.
Their absence this season hasn’t seemed to cause much of a drop-off.
With Gig Harbor’s 4-1 win over crosstown rival Peninsula on Friday, the Tides now boast an 11-1-0 overall record and a perfect 10-0-0 mark in the Class 3A South Sound Conference.
What’s more: Gig Harbor is averaging nearly five goals per game. In its last five games: six goals against Yelm, eight against Shelton, eight against North Thurston (six of which came in the first 18 minutes of the game), six against Capital and four against Peninsula.
“I think just throughout the season, we’ve gotten progressively better with finishing,” said junior outside-mid Tatum Griffin. “We’ve been working on runs in the box. We’ve just gotten so much better throughout the season.”
Gig Harbor’s toughest test now has been Peninsula. Gig Harbor escaped with a 1-0 win in the first meeting. The second meeting’s 4-1 score line isn’t indicative of the game’s closeness — the game was 2-1 for much of the second half, with the Tides having to adapt to Peninsula’s high pressure.
Sophomore Alyssa Gray opened the scoring in the 14th minute, junior Anna Stewart added another in the 29th. Peninsula answered with a goal of its own early in the second half. Gig Harbor piled on in the final few minutes of the game, with Gray adding another in the 76th minute and Madi Bosselman scoring the Tides’ fourth goal in the 79th.
“We were a little shaky at first, but we really pulled together as a team and fixed our problems,” said senior midfielder Carolyn Merrick.
Gig Harbor coach Stephanie Cox praised the Peninsula program, which is sitting in third place with a 7-3-0 league record.
“Even in the first half, their pressure was really good on us,” Cox said. “We had a hard time handling their pressure, and it was a challenge to play our style. We didn’t respond as well as I would have liked.”
Still, Gig Harbor came out with the win.
“The more that I’m coaching in this community, the more I realize how important that game is,” Cox said. “There’s a lot of family and friends at the game, so that means a lot to them. Peninsula is just getting better and better. It’s a really competitive, good game for us.”
Gig Harbor’s other opponents haven’t offered as much resistance as Peninsula has. The Tides cruised through the league in easy fashion similarly a year ago, and struggled to adjust to a higher level of play in the state tournament. Keeping their collective foots on the gas pedal has been a point of emphasis for the Tides this season.
“We just work hard every day at practice,” Merrick said. “I think it was good for us to play Peninsula. They put some good pressure on us. It was a good mental test to see how we would handle that. But I think just going hard at each other in practice, not being afraid to tackle each other is the biggest key. In a game, bigger and stronger teams are going to come after us. We need to be ready.”
Not having the same amount of star power as last year’s team could actually turn out to be a blessing in disguise. This team is scoring with more players and in different ways.
“I think a lot our attack last year went through Leahi and we were pretty dependent on her,” Cox said. “I think this year, maybe having some more diversity in our attack helps us be a little more balanced, hopefully. Pressure will come (at) state. We have to know that in practice, the amount of pressure we put against ourselves, as far as being competitive or being as physical, how we compete within ourselves can replicate a game.”
And if Gig Harbor can stay focused, Cox thinks the Tides could make a deep run into the state tournament.
“For me, having the experience that I’ve had with soccer, I know the level that it can be at,” Cox said. “I’m constantly challenging the girls, pushing them and not being satisfied with things.”