When Emery Wallerich was a high school center back for the Gig Harbor Tides, her talent on the soccer field was undeniable.
The only question is where she’d end up in college. She drew some Division-I interest, but some of her coaches urged her to play it safe.
“I remember some of them saying D-2 would be a little easier than D-1 would,” Wallerich said.
But Wallerich wanted a challenge. So she signed with Oregon State University, where she’s played in the Pac-12 with the Beavers for the past three seasons, after taking a redshirt year as a freshman.
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Now, she’s going into her redshirt junior season.
“It’s been amazing,” Wallerich said. “It was such a huge change going from the type of soccer I was used to playing in high school. It’s been so much fun learning how these athletes play at this level.”
The biggest difference? The speed of the game, and the general skill level of the players.
“When I came in as a freshman, I was dumbstruck,” Wallerich said. “Watching these girls play, it was so much faster than what I was used to. It was eye-opening to see what these girls can do on the ball.”
Wallerich, who is studying digital communications, said she has grown by leaps and bounds as a soccer player with the Beavers. She played in 11 games last season, making seven starts.
“I’ve grown immensely,” she said. “The coaches, the girls I grew up with from freshmen year to now, it’s just been crazy. I’m definitely a smarter soccer player now. The team has been supportive.”
Along with adjusting to the higher level of paly, Wallerich has been thrust into some positions on the field. When a teammate went down with an injury during the team’s spring games her freshman year, Wallerich was tasked with taking over as an outside back.
“I hadn’t played that position in years, so it was a little bit of an adjustment,” she said. “And it was against teams like Stanford, UCLA, USC. Those girls are so fast. It was definitely a big change.”
Now, she’ll be on the move again for Oregon State, which finished 3-7-1 in the Pac-12 last season. Her coach, Linus Rhode, plans on moving Wallerich to center forward this fall.
“I want to score a lot of goals this season,” Wallerich said. “Last season, being a defender, I didn’t have a lot of chances to get up there. And as an upperclassman, I want to come in and help my team and be as supportive as I can.”
She also wants to help make the Beavers more competitive this season.
“We definitely want to make the (Pac-12) tournament this year,” she said.
Wallerich said it’s been a privilege to represent little Gig Harbor at the next level in Corvallis.
“No one ever really knows where Gig Harbor is,” she said. “Coming from a small town, it’s been so much fun.”
Leahi Manthei, Seattle University: The Gig Harbor grad appeared in 20 games, making six starts at forward as a true freshman for the Redhawks in 2017. She scored seven goals and assisted on two others and finished as the team’s second-leading goal scorer. Manthei set a Division-I program record with four goals at Idaho on Sept. 4, helping SU overcome a two-goal deficit for the first time in Division-I program history.
Manthei was named to The News Tribune’s 2016 All-Area first-team, after scoring 22 goals and seven assists as a senior for the Tides.
Rachel Ross, Pacific Lutheran University: The Gig Harbor grad appeared in all 21 matches for the Lutes, starting 19 games at defensive midfielder. She finished the season with three goals, including a pair against NWC rival, Linfield. Ross was named to the all-conference first team and was a finalist for the defensive player of the year. She helped lead the Lutes to their second NCAA playoffs, where she scored two goals. Ross was also named to the all-conference academic team.
Amber Burbridge, St. Martin’s University: The Peninsula grad played in 15 games for the Saints as a sophomore midfielder in 2017, starting four. She helped her team to two consecutive NWAC finals and was awarded the NWAC Academic Award.
Kaysie Bruce, Idaho: The Gig Harbor grad appeared in 19 games as a freshman midfielder for the Vandals, tallying one goal and two assists.
Jordan Bertram, Cal State Bakersfield: The Gig Harbor grad started all 19 games in goal for the Roadrunners as a sophomore, recording 85 saves. She posted a 1.68 goals average on the year, playing 1,772 minutes and recording two shutouts. She earned academic All-WAC honors.
Lauren Mercuri, Central Arkansas: The Peninsula grad appeared in 18 games in goal as a junior for the Sugar Bears. Mercuri tallied 61 saves on the year.
Other locals: Maggie Oatridge, Corban University; Jack Sluys, Fordham University; Keeton Heggerness, Chaminade University of Honolulu; Mason Haubrich, Peninsula College.