Every Friday, each player on the Puyallup High School girls soccer team writes her goals on a whiteboard beneath the Sparks Stadium grandstands.
Some are match-specific like Hallie Johnson’s.
“I’m going to try to know where the pass should go before I get the ball,” Johnson wrote.
Some are academic-based or off-the-field.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
“I want to cheer the team up and let them know when we are playing pretty and good soccer,” Katelyn Wood wrote.
Some are both.
“I will be vocal. I will try my best for my team and myself. I will fight for every ball and fight any girl who gets in my way!” wrote Sunny Bieber.
Puyallup coach Matt White knows this is not the most talented, fastest or strongest team he’s assembled. Yet it has powered past the loss of two starters to torn ACLs, it graduated its top two players from last year — Saige Lyons is now playing at Eastern Washington University and Jordyn Bartelson at Western Washington University — and still won at least a share of the 4A South Puget Sound League title for the third time in the past five years.
And this was a league that added perennial powers Bellarmine Prep, Olympia and South Kitsap from the now-extinct 4A Narrows and another in Sumner from the 3A SPSL. And, still, Puyallup (13-1-2) clinched the 4A SPSL title by 10 points over second-place Sumner (wins are worth three points in the standings, ties are worth one point and losses zero).
It’s all because of what White calls the Vikings’ squad-first mentality.
“If you’re watching our practice, how much have you seen anybody dribble,” White asked. “None of what we are doing is based on individual. It’s all about how we move together as a group — whether that is emotionally, academic-wise, team-wise or actually on the field. We all have to do this together.”
Oh, how well and good and cliché that all sounds. But “squad-first” and “constant improvement” have been two team staples White instilled into both his boys and girls programs he coaches that he said have allowed the programs to maintain consistent success.
“But then the second part is you have to be blessed with kids who want to show up and do all of this stuff,” White said. “Kids who say, ‘I need to work hard every day — for you. Not just for me.’ ”
Puyallup’s Katelyn Evans transferred in after scoring 34 goals with 14 assists for Fife last year. She had more than 20 goals more than the league’s next highest goal scorer.
She’s Puyallup’s leading goal scorer this year, even with a tamed production — 12 goals with six assists and four assist-to-assists.
“I think we all work really well together,” said Evans, who goes by “Kevin” because she’s one of two Katelyn’s on the team alongside Katelyn Wood, who goes by K-Dub.
“I can’t just dribble through everybody anymore. And I feel like with this team we connect very well. And we have a good bond.”
Grace Wood, a first-team all-league player for Puyallup last season, tore her ACL in a match against South Kitsap three weeks ago, and that was after Morgan Easley tore her ACL near the beginning of the year.
It’s made Puyallup more detail-oriented, focusing more intently on passes, patterns and corner kicks.
“I feel like we seem to depend on everybody evenly this year,” said Johnson, who has three goals and six assists as a defender and is the returning 4A SPSL defensive player of the year. “We just have a lot of different people making different runs.”
“I feel like more of our goals have come from set pieces,” said Katelyn Wood, who has eight goals and five assists.
And now Puyallup enters the 4A West Central District tournament as the No. 1 seed from the 4A SPSL. The Vikings play the winner of a loser-out district match between Federal Way and Bellarmine Prep at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Sparks Stadium. With a win, it would reach the 4A state tournament for the second consecutive year.
“We have been consistent. That is a hallmark of our squad,” White said. “Year in and year out, we are consistent. We work hard to train, we learn high-level tactical stuff and then — this is going to bite me in the butt some year — but theoretically when we graduate Saige Lyons or Jordyn Bartelson or Jessica Udovich (UW) or Liz Griffith (WSU to PLU), we are still competing for the league title the next year.
“I like us. We as coaches on a regular basis use that as a common phrase around here — we like us. I would like to keep playing as long as I can because I like them — they are fun to work with, they work hard and they are so coachable.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677