Last year’s Sumner High girls soccer team was a unit clearly defined by a roster of senior stars with eyes on a Class 3A state title.
But it was a quest unfulfilled in the end as one superstar — Seattle Prep’s Sophie Hirst — ended it in the 3A title game in mere minutes, leaving the Spartans with heartbreak after a 3-0 loss.
But more was left on that field that bitter November night. What Sumner was left with after the championship-game loss was holes all over the pitch.
“It was definitely hard, and I think it sounded a lot harder than it actually ended up being,” Gonzaga commit Jordan Thompson said. “I think the difference this year and last year is that we don’t have any superstars ... there’s not one person who will carry the team. We will carry this team together.”
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Half the starting roster had to be replaced as six vacant, crucial spots instantly became open, leaving coach Robi Turley with perhaps her toughest task in years: How could she keep Sumner as competitive as the program has been during her tenure?
“We have a lot of dangerous weapons across the board — we don’t feel like we have any superstars,” Turley said. “It’s hard for teams to engage us.”
That has led Sumner to the top of the league, as the Spartans entered the week with a 4-0 record, and 5-1-0 mark overall. Sumner’s lone loss came in its first game to 4A SPSL Northeast foe Tahoma (5-1-1).
“I think a lot of us noticed that ... they were worried about us first, as it’s interesting going from those big players to (the current roster), ” Megan McDonald said. “We’re so hard working this year, as everyone is working equally as a team ... it just shows how much work we put into it and how much we work. It’s very cool to watch.”
There’s a bit of familiarity to Sumner’s hot start, as the Spartans are doing it Turley’s way.
Building it back up
Any team that loses entire position groups — like what happened to Sumner with its midfield and defensive line — finds it’s a tough road to travel the following season. But coaches like Turley are afforded time to develop those replacements. She often gives younger players chances to learn the varsity game the previous year.
It’s just hard finding those minutes for younger players during a season — except one group for the Spartans never afforded that time: the goalkeepers.
Losing two goalies the caliber of Abby Smith (now playing at Seattle Pacific) and Jamie Lange (University of Puget Sound) is tough. Replacing both is nearly impossible.
“They were role models I looked up to when I was starting on (junior varsity),” goalie Sydney Green said. “They gave me a lot of confidence, telling me I could definitely do this.”
Yet on paper, it looks like Sumner has done it with Green and sophomore Madison Hanenburg. Both goalies have combined to allow just four goals all season with four combined shutouts. Those early numbers are starting to look very familiar.
“I’m not trying to replace them ... you can’t really replace them,” Hanenburg said of the departed Smith and Lange. “I know that they really put a name for this program, and I’m just trying to repay them by making this program stronger.”
With the girls splitting duties like their predecessors, it has been a tossup for who has taken the early lead in goalkeeping duties.
Hanenburg started for the Spartans in their Sept. 24 road game against last season’s second-place finishers, Auburn Riverside.
In the opening minutes, the Ravens struck quick as Izzy Creighton connected with Talia Samuelson for a goal in the fourth minute.
“It was good to see them go down early that quickly,” Turley said. “They haven’t experienced that yet this season, giving up a goal in the opening minutes of the game. We needed to see how they responded to that adversity.”
Hanenburg absorbed the pressure from Riverside’s attack and allowed her teammates to regroup to dominate the rest of the game as Sumner eventually won, 3-1.
When Green entered the second half, well, it was a different story.
After Riverside’s first goal, the Spartans came to life and controlled the tempo of the game.
“It doesn’t surprise me that we can just hammer it,” said Thompson, a team captain. “And it doesn’t surprise me that when we get to those nail-biter moments, I know I have the confidence in my back line, the middle and front to do what they need to do.”
Sumner kept the ball at midfield, playing a game of keep away while looking for open lanes. At the 15-minute mark, Kinsey Saiz started a counter attack that led to senior forward Ali Wehmer’s game-tying goal.
“It was kind of bouncing around and I was waiting for my opportunity,” Wehmer said. “I was just waiting and waiting, and when I got it, I just put it in.”
Five minutes later Jaylin Borden gave Sumner the lead, and Brooke Nichols’ goal in the 36th minute gave Sumner a 3-1 lead at the half.
It was Thompson’s defense that led the way, as the senior defender toyed with the Ravens, flustering any offensive attempts. With Thompson acting as sweeper on the back line, any time the ball crossed midfield, she was there, hammering it back.
“This year it’s a lot more together — together we’re going to do, and that’s how we’re going to get it done,” Thompson said.
Thursday’s win was Sumner’s first test of the league season, and the Spartans responded exactly how Turley expects. It’s about moving on and defending that 3A SPSL title.
“We expect success. It doesn’t matter if we’re rebuilding, we expect to be toward the top (of league),” Turley said.