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Gig Harbor girls soccer returns to state tournament after 4-0 win over Kelso

The Gig Harbor High School girls soccer team is heading back to the Class 3A state tournament after walloping Kelso, 4-0, at South Sound Stadium in Lacey on Saturday in a loser-out West Central III district match.

Gig Harbor earned a matchup with Bellevue (12-5-1) on Tuesday night (Nov. 7) at Roy Anderson Field in the opening round of the state tournament.

“It’s exciting to be hosting again,” Gig Harbor coach Stephanie Cox said. “Bellevue has a great program. They’re battled tested and they compete in a difficult league. Our girls will be ready for the challenge.”

Gig Harbor forward Jaylynn Barton opened up the scoring against Kelso with a goal in the 14th minute, finishing a chance created by teammate Carolyn Merrick. Barton scored again in the 51st minute off a cross from teammate Paige Tullis. The ball hit the post, bounced back, and Barton finished it for her second goal of the game.

Carolyn Merrick scored directly from a free kick in the 60th minute, a bit of a fluky goal that bounced over the keeper’s head and into the net.

Tatum Griffin finished off the scoring in the 69th minute, giving Gig Harbor its fourth goal of the match, a volley off a cross from teammate Bailey Werner.

“It was a really exciting game for us,” Cox said. “All our players played extremely well. Paige Tullis played great up front. We executed our game plan. We wanted to exploit the wide space, and we did that. We scored off three crosses. So I’m proud of our persistence in front of goal. It’s just exciting to get it coming from all different directions.”

Gig Harbor (15-2-0) has been varied in its attack all season, which has made the Tides a dangerous squad.

“An example is with (Benson),” Cox said. “She’s had maybe one goal all season. So just talking with her, telling her she’s got to be more goal dangerous — just wanting her to perform even more. And she did that. … The players kind of know our system. Putting the pieces of the puzzle in the right place allows us to get opportunities from multiple players. I think it’s hard for other teams to shut us down. It’s not just one player, it’s not just in the middle or out wide.”

Gig Harbor has focused on upping the intensity in the playoffs this season. But more than the postseason, not taking any opponent too lightly has been a theme from the coaching staff all season long.

“We never underestimated any team,” Cox said. “That was a challenge for us as a coaching staff, we had goals to achieve outside of the final score, outside of the results. We’re trying to play a certain way — that’s been the goal. Hard work, pressuring the ball, no matter who’s playing. They’ve really owned that and worked hard, everyone has contributed and raised the level.”

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