When Jenny Buys reclaimed her position as the girls soccer coach at Peninsula High four years ago, it was a struggle just to get the team to win games.
Times have changed, as the Seahawks are now one of the top teams in the Class 3A South Sound Conference, and expect to be once again this year.
That transformation didn’t happen overnight. It took some time to build back up the belief and culture at PHS.
“There’s a commitment to raise the bar from every player,” Buys said. “We work really hard on that. I think a lot of it has to do with the coaching they receive at the JV level. So when they come to me, they understand our mission and our goal. We have a commitment to combining recreation players with players that don’t play soccer all the time. Having that goal to be together.”
Now, Peninsula wants to take the next step, after losing 2-0 to Bethel last year in the West Central III/Southwest bi-district tournament. A win would’ve pushed the Seahawks into the Class 3A state tournament.
“We just need to continue working better as a team,” said all-league attacking midfielder Madison Grande, a senior. “We have some passing issues we’re working on. Instead of just kicking long balls, focusing on trying to work the ball through the middle and have short 1-2 passes. We’re quick and we can get those.”
Peninsula also returns all-league senior forward Ashleigh Bernhard. Having two all-league returning seniors up top could mean plenty of goals for the Seahawks this season.
“We have a really strong connection,” Bernhard said. “We work well together, bounce off each other.”
While Grande is somewhat soft-spoken, Bernhard was happy to brag about her teammate.
“She brings a lot of confidence, makes everyone feel at ease,” Bernhard said. “She moves the ball really well.”
So which attacker will score more goals this season?
“I’d like to say hopefully me, since I’m a forward,” Bernhard said, with a laugh. “But she has a really good shot.”
Last season, it felt like Peninsula closed the gap between itself and crosstown rival Gig Harbor, which has been the gold standard for success in the South Sound Conference since its inception in 2016.
“When my seniors were freshmen, (Gig Harbor) beat us 10-0,” Buys said. “They’ve always been the standard.”
Last year? Gig Harbor beat Peninsula 1-0 in the first meeting, and 4-1 in the second. Still losses — but progress nonetheless for Peninsula.
“Playing Gig Harbor is one of those games that allows them to see the most growth,” Buys said.
Peninsula also returns all-league senior goalie Ali Campigotto. This is Buys’ deepest team yet.
“My first year, we only had two seniors that started on the field,” Buys said. “We have six this year. ... I don’t have to rely so heavily on the young kids coming in.”
Bernhard has noticed the attitude shift within the program.
“I think it was really good for all of us to take that step forward,” Bernhard said. “I think it urges us to continue that this year. Hopefully we’ll do well. I think it was confidence last year. We had a lot more confidence. A few years ago, we didn’t believe in ourselves as much as these last couple years.”
If everything goes to plan, Peninsula should be a more-goal dangerous team in the final third this year.
“We’re working on shooting and finishing,” Grande said. “Not just driving in, but placing it. We lost a bit of size but we have fast outsides and we’re fast in the middle.”
PENINSULA SOCCER SCHEDULE
Aug. 31: South Kitsap 2, Peninsula 1
Sept. 6: Holy Names Academy, 7 p.m.
Sept. 11: at Shelton, 7 p.m.
Sept. 13: North Thurston, 7 p.m.
Sept. 18: at Yelm, 7 p.m.
Sept. 20: Capital, 7 p.m.
Sept. 25: Central Kitsap, 7 p.m.
Sept. 27: at Timberline, 5 p.m.
Oct. 2: at Gig Harbor, 7 p.m.
Oct. 4: Shelton, 7 p.m.
Oct. 9: at North Thurston, 7 p.m.
Oct. 11: Yelm, 7 p.m.
Oct. 16L at Capital, 7 p.m.
Oct. 18: at Central Kitsap, 7:15 p.m.
Oct. 23: Timberline, 7 p.m.
Oct. 25: Gig Harbor, 7 p.m.