Those who have followed the Gig Harbor High School girls soccer team this fall know that the Tides have no problem scoring goals. But what might be overlooked at times, is how good Gig Harbor has been on defense.
Gig Harbor, which finished with a 16-0 overall record and a 14-0 record in the Class 3A South Sound Conference, only allowed seven goals all season. In 16 games, the Tides recorded 12 clean sheets. Gig Harbor’s defensive prowess starts in the net, with senior goalkeeper Erinn Harder, who has blossomed into a vocal leader and defensive star for the Tides.
“Her focus and intensity has been great,” said second-year coach Stephanie Cox.
Gig Harbor’s team, according to Cox, is a little goofy. The girls like to sing songs and make jokes. While Cox encourages the girls to have fun and enjoy themselves, there’s also a time when the players need to dial it in and get serious. That’s an area in which Harder excels.
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12 number of clean sheets Gig Harbor senior goalkeeper Erinn Harder has recorded this season for the Tides
“In warm-ups, in practice, she has a certain amount of focus that gives us a great foundation,” Cox said. “I think you really need that from your goalkeeper.”
To a casual fan, goalkeeping might simply look like making saves. But there’s a lot more that goes into it — from organizing the back line, positioning players, being an outlet for defenders to play the ball back and distributing the ball.
It’s not just saving the ball — it’s stopping the ball. Stopping them from even getting a shot in the first place.
Erinn Harder, Gig Harbor senior goalkeeper
“It’s not just saving the ball — it’s stopping the ball,” Harder said. “Stopping them from even getting a shot in the first place. That’s where communicating can kind of help.”
Coming into high school, Harder struggled to be vocal. But one of her coaches told her if she wanted to be an elite goalkeeper, she would need to elevate that part of her game. She accepted the challenge.
“You just need the confidence to be able to tell your defenders things,” she said. “I like to help out my defenders with positioning. … I just talk with them, stay involved with it and try to communicate. I ask for the ball back from my defenders. They know they can play it through me.”
Being able to play the ball back to the keeper is a valuable asset for the Tides, as it provides a safety valve for defenders who are being pressured by the opposition. Gig Harbor’s players and coaches have faith that Harder will make the right decision with the ball and not put the team in a dangerous situation.
We’re really comfortable playing back to her because of her distribution and the decisions she makes on the ball.
Gig Harbor coach Stephanie Cox
“She’s got great feet,” Cox said. “Her distribution out of the back — she really has great technique with both feet. Which isn’t always the case for goalkeepers. Sometimes in our league, they can’t clear the forward line. We’re really comfortable playing back to her because of her distribution and the decisions she makes on the ball.”
Harder has been practicing her technique since she was 8 years old, so it’s not too surprising she has a good handle on it by now. She drives north to Tukwila nearly every day to practice with her club team, Pacific Northwest. While she said she benefits from training with her club team, she’s learned a lot from Cox as well, who played as a defender for the United States Women’s National Team.
“She’s helped the organization in the back (line),” Harder said. “She’s helped us really understand the positions on the defense. In the past, we’ve had coaches in there tell you what to do. She helps walk through the decision making, helps us understand when we need to do things and why. She helps us understand what we’re doing, what it causes and how it helps the team.”
If Gig Harbor is going to make a deep run into the postseason, the defense could be the X-factor.
“I think although our attack does really well, I think our defense will be very key,” Harder said. “We have a strong defense. I don’t think we’ll struggle too much with it. We have some of the best offense in the league. If we can defend against our own offense (in practice), we should be able to stop other teams. We just need to make sure we have our heads in the game.”
Cox said the team learned a lot from one of its toughest games of the season, during the first leg against Central Kitsap, in which the Tides conceded three goals early, digging themselves into a 3-0 hole. While Gig Harbor eventually climbed out and won, 4-3, the takeaway from the game was obvious.
“It just showed us, we need to have defense first,” Cox said. “We talk about, when we lose the ball, how quickly can we get it back? How quickly can we force them into a bad pass? I think that communication from Erinn, from our back line, can kind of alleviate pressure from our defense. … Hopefully we’ve done a good job of preparing ourselves.”
WIN AND THEY’RE IN
Gig Harbor will play the winner of Evergreen versus Stadium at 5 p.m. Saturday (Nov. 5) at Mount Tahoma High School. The winner will earn the West Central District 3’s top seed, while the loser will be eliminated from the postseason.