There is sort of an amusing asterisk next to the record of the top-ranked Western Washington University women’s soccer squad.
The Vikings are 20-0-1 headed into this weekend’s NCAA Division II West Regional tournament in Colorado.
But at one point, they were 0-2 in exhibition matches against Canadian teams.
“I don’t want to say we were not ready for them ... but we were still playing a lot of players,” Western coach Travis Connell said. “It was important to give the freshmen their chances, and it was important for the players who did not play a lot the year before to get their chances.”
Say what you want about Connell, but he isn’t afraid to give opportunities to newcomers.
And a good portion of his nucleus is made up of former standouts from the South Sound:
▪ The player of the year in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference isn’t the leading goal-scorer or some hotshot midfielder. It was Vikings defender Sierra Shugarts, a Decatur High School graduate.
“She can mark anyone,” Connell said. “We don’t have to change anything no matter who we go against. She counters anything.”
Connell said his dynamic junior has been a “late bloomer,” especially from a leadership standpoint in the back half of the field.
“My goal at the beginning of the year ... I knew I could be (GNAC) defensive player of the year,” Shugarts said. “But winning that honor was cool. But I could not do it without my teammates.
▪ The GNAC’s top offensive player has been Gabriela Pelogi, a sophomore out of Federal Way. Pelogi leads the Vikings in both goals (eight) and assists (seven).
“She is physically too much for most of the teams we play,” Connell said. “Her combination of speed, power, and being low to the ground and her ability to change direction have been most valuable.”
▪ Ashley Homer, a redshirt sophomore, is Western’s first-year starting goalkeeper. The Puyallup High School product transferred in last season after spending two years at College of Saint Rose in New York.
“She redshirted for us (in 2015) and even though it is her first year, she acts like a veteran,” Connell said. “She plays with a ton of confidence. She keeps us calm back there.”
The other three local regulars are all true freshmen playing in a reserve role:
▪ Puyallup’s Jordyn Bartelson was The News Tribune’s 2015-16 senior girls athlete of the year for what she accomplished in wrestling (four-time state champion), girls soccer (two state trips in 2012 and last year) and softball (won 4A title in 2014).
“Jordyn is unique because she can play forward or midfield,” Connell said. “The reason she comes off the bench is, depending on our need, she is good at defending and attacking.”
▪ Emily Nelson, out of Bellarmine Prep, splits time at center back. Connell said she is so competitive, she does not hesitate to talk smack to her own teammates during training.
▪ Peyton Chick, out of Kentridge, is a big-time scorer at forward. Connell says she is equally dangerous going to either foot.
The University of Puget Sound hosts its annual Doug McArthur Classic starting Friday at Memorial Fieldhouse in Tacoma. The men’s tournament will consist of the Loggers, Pacific Lutheran, Evergreen State College and reigning NCAA Division III champion St. Thomas of Minnesota. The women’s tournament features UPS, PLU, California Lutheran and Nebraska-Wesleyan. ... The following weekend, the two local men’s teams will travel cross town for the PLU Thanksgiving Tournament. …
PLU’s Brad Hodkinson won the West Regional men’s cross country individual title Saturday at Pasture Park in Salem, Oregon. Hodkinson won the 8-kilometer race in 25 minutes, 40 seconds — seven seconds faster than Joshua Sealand, of Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. Hodkinson is a good bet for a podium finish at the national championships Saturday at E.P. Sawyer State Park in Louisville, Kentucky.