Gateway: Sports

Peninsula girls soccer has found its edge under Buys

Peninsula’s Ashleigh Bernhard (2) is one of several returning players on this year’s roster.
Peninsula’s Ashleigh Bernhard (2) is one of several returning players on this year’s roster.

The Peninsula girls soccer team had just defeated Bonney Lake, 6-5, in the 2016 West Central III/Southwest bi-district tournament. With the wild win, the Seahawks had qualified for the Class 3A state tournament. In the locker-room, the players were overcome with emotion.

“We were all crying,” said senior left back Aoife Duffy. “We were so overwhelmed. I’ve been on varsity since my freshman year and we never made it (to state).”

Heading into districts, the Peninsula girls soccer team didn’t appear the likeliest candidate to advance to state. Peninsula had posted an 8-2-6 overall record to that point. Gig Harbor and Central Kitsap were the class of the 3A South Sound Conference.

Quite simply — the Seahawks weren’t an elite team a season ago. But there was some fight in that group that got them into the state tournament.

“Most of it just came down to believing we had a shot at it, that we had the talent we needed, we had the right people at the right positions and we just needed to take advantage of the opportunities,” said third-year coach Jenny Buys. “It’s just a testament to how hard these girls really work. We really value chemistry, teamwork and putting in the time. It’s sweet when it pays off.”

Now, the team is hoping to go from scrappy success story to legitimate contender. Bishop Blanchet quickly put an end to Peninsula’s state appearance with a 3-0 win over the Seahawks in the opening round last season.

“We got a little taste of what state feels like, so now everyone is hungry for more,” said senior center back Baily Paul. “It’s a big deal for us this year.”

Peninsula appears to have the pieces in place to take the next step. Duffy and Paul are joined by an experienced group of players.

“As a team, we’ve all bonded a little more,” Duffy said. “We know how to play with each other better this year.”

Under Buys, the Seahawks have found their edge again. Maybe it’s the focus on fitness in practice that makes the Seahawks a tougher matchup for teams on gameday. Maybe the enthusiasm Buys exudes for soccer trickles down through the ranks. Whatever it is, it’s clear that the Seahawks are on the rise.

“I expect us to be a team that people are scared to challenge,” Paul said. “They’re going to come in knowing it’s going to be a good game. We’re going to be a team to be nervous for. … We played really well together in the middle. They can expect a big Seahawk storm coming in.”

Buys sees that tenacity. She also sees speed.

“This team is very fast,” Buys said. “It’s fun to watch them play the ball. When they make a mistake, they’ll get back on you really quickly. They’re also super dynamic. I think that’s part of the joy of this group.”

Buys doesn’t expect the SSC 3A to be quite as top-heavy as last year. If the Seahawks play well, she expects them to contend for the league title this year.

“Every day, I just want us to get better,” Buys said. “There are going to be a lot of battles (in league play) this year.”

And if the stars align, perhaps the Seahawks will find themselves back in the state tournament.

“Looking at all the talent we have, it looks like a great squad,” Duffy said. “Hopefully, we can get to state again and go a little further than we did last year.”

Peninsula opens league play against Timberline on Tuesday (Sept. 12) at Roy Anderson Field. First kick is set for 7 p.m.