As a defensive midfielder for the undefeated Gig Harbor Tides, which recently wrapped up the West Central III/Southwest bi-district title and pushed its record to 19-0 on the season, Hannah Carroll seems to be everywhere on the field at once.
Blink, and you might just miss her.
“Our coaching staff was joking around that we should put a GPS monitor on her during the game,” said Gig Harbor coach Stephanie Cox. “She doesn’t know anything less than 100 percent.”
Cox’s statement falls in line with what the school’s track coach, Kevin Eager, has said about Carroll in the past regarding Carroll’s mindset and effort. Last spring Carroll won the Class 3A 400-meter state title for the Tides, as well as the 200-meter title and was part of Gig Harbor’s 4x100 (first) and 4x400 (fourth) state relays.
Speed, clearly, plays a role in Carroll’s effectiveness for the soccer team.
“She’s so fast,” said teammate Grace Neil, a center back for the Tides. “It’s really helpful, knowing in the center defense, that Hannah will get there and then we can recover in the middle.”
Carroll is a big part of the reason Gig Harbor has only allowed five goals in 19 games this season. If the back line slips up, Carroll has the closing speed to erase any mistakes. She has the speed and awareness to pressure the ball and close space. Maybe most importantly, she’s the connector between the back line and the midfield for a team that wants to build its attack out of the back.
“She connects our back line to our front players, to the rest of the midfield,” Cox said. “She’s shown a lot of growth over four years in that position as far as her discipline. She’s the first player who pressures the ball. If we lose it, she just shuts down the other team’s attack.”
In Gig Harbor’s 3-0 win over Prairie in the bi-district title game, Prairie’s top forward ended up having to drop back into the midfield to try to neutralize Carroll’s effect on the game.
“It was almost laughable — just this girl’s frustration,” Cox said. “Hannah is here in one spot, then all the sudden, she thinks she has time and then Hannah is back there recovering. So just the intensity, the high standard and focus that she has is really exceptional for a high schooler. And just her leadership, focus and soccer IQ is really high. She’s been a joy to coach the last couple years.”
A lot of coaches talk about leadership as a concept, but with Carroll, it’s not just a coaching cliché.
“I get really frazzled at 70, 80 minutes into the game,” Neil said. “It’s those last 10 minutes and most teams tend to turn it up then. Hannah definitely keeps it in me mentally and says ‘Grace, we don’t need you to do that right now. You don’t need to foul right there. Let’s calm down, pull it together.’ Things like that.”
With a senior-heavy team, the players aren’t afraid to be straight with each other.
“Soccer is a more mental game than physical,” Neil said. “It all goes through your head. So to have someone to calm everyone down in those minutes, she’s a good player reader. She knows if they’re having a bad day, we have to focus on encouraging them. Definitely having Hannah there is key.”
While WSU commit Alyssa Gray and freshman Lily Paulson have garnered well-deserved attention as the team’s top goal-scorers this year, there might be no more important player on the team right now than Carroll.
So if Cox did stick Hannah with a GPS tracker during a game, what would she see? Plenty of miles logged, certainly. Most likely more than any other player on the field.
But the distance Carroll covers only tells part of the story. In soccer, coaches also look how often a player goes in for tackles, how often they change direction, how many times they go up to head the ball — anything and everything that taxes a player’s body.
“For Hannah, that number has to be extremely high,” Cox said. “As much as any professional player, in my opinion. From my experience playing soccer at all levels, it’s just really exceptional. ... I think since a lot of people who don’t know soccer too well just see the goal scorers, the stars. But having been a defender at the international level, I understand the value that she brings to our team.
“She’s a true holding midfielder and having her in there, she controls the game, limits the other team and what they’re able to do. She enables Lily, Alyssa and Anna (Stewart) to score goals because they know that the middle is being held down by her. She frees them up to do what they’re best at.”
Carroll might not show up often in the stat sheet, but that doesn’t seem to matter to her, or the rest of the team. The team’s selfless play has been a big part of its undefeated season.
“She’s a huge team player,” said teammate Tatum Griffin, who also was a member of Gig Harbor’s state track relay team, alongside Carroll. “She’s not doing it for herself, she’s doing it for the team. We have a lot of depth. We get goals coming from different positions, from assists and crosses. Our team doesn’t work with just individual players.”