It’s safe to say the Gig Harbor High School girls soccer team entered this season with a bar set awfully high from the year prior.
An undefeated season? Check. A deep run in the state tournament? Check. And a 2-1 win in the state championship match to cap off a state title? Check.
This bar was really high.
So when the Tides opened their season with a loss to Class 4A Union — their first in 676 days — it wasn’t exactly the game plan.
“We were devastated,” said senior Alyssa Gray, a Washington State University commit. “But Union is a really good team. It was good for us to be challenged for our first game coming in to the season. We had to adjust, and it made us realize we need to believe for each other and work for each other.”
And adjust they did, to the tune of a seven game win streak and an aggregate score of 35-2 since that opening loss.
Now, back atop the standings with a 6-0 league record, senior Abby Emery believes their defeat took an immense amount of pressure off the team going forward.
“I’ll give credit where credit is deserved. Union is a very talented team. We knew what we were going in to and we knew it would be competitive, but I believe that game relieved a lot of pressure of being the reigning state champs,” Emery said. “It was a blessing in disguise.”
But holding seven teams to a combined two goals? There’s more to that than a blessing in disguise.
Cox knows the team’s development on the defensive side of the ball helped the Tides kick-start a dominant run.
“The first couple games we played, we were letting in one or two goals every game,” Cox said. “We’ve really worked on our back line; one person pressuring and the other person covering. [We’re] reading plays well. I think it’s really coming together.”
Though Emery helps lead the defense at the center back position, she gave credit to the teammates around her and the team’s ability to work together.
“Our defensive is held together very well by our rockstar keepers … but I also think the pressure from the front has taken a lot of pressure off of the defense and has allowed us to breathe and play the ball to our feet.
“Playing defense is a very cohesive job. We’ve been building off of the chemistry and the hard work Coach Cox has been instilling in this team. We’ve developed a lot.”
Looking ahead to the second half of the regular season, the Tides look to defend not only their league title, but state championship honor.
With teams getting a second chance at taking on the Tides, Gray knows opposing squads will approach the match more prepared.
“We’re almost halfway through the season. Knowing we play these teams again means they what know our plan is,” Gray said. “They know how we play.”
But Emery knows the Tides will use a similar strategy.
“I think we can change the structure of our team to match them pretty well.”
Coach Cox — looking ahead at the remaining schedule — doesn’t seem too worried about the opponent.
“The thing I’m really proud about is our consistency,” Cox said. “If you look at our league, teams will go back and forth. … Our mentality [is to] focus on us and where we’re at in the season and our development and growth, rather than on the opponent and who we’re playing.”