When the Gig Harbor High School needed it most, playing against Holy Names in the Class 3A state championship soccer game at Sparks Stadium in Puyallup on Saturday afternoon, it was their shortest player who stood the tallest.
Tied at 1-1 in the 76th minute, Tides freshman forward Ashley Wright, standing at 4 feet, 10 inches — 4-foot-10 and a half, if you ask her — settled the ball at her feet, turned toward the goal, and scored.
It was the game-winner, lifting the Tides over the Cougars, 2-1, to cap off a 23-0 season for Gig Harbor.
“I saw the defender had a big touch, so I went right to it and was thinking that we weren’t going to get another opportunity like that, so I had to finish it,” Wright said. “It felt so good to get it in the net.”
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While the game was tied at 1-1 late in the second half, Gig Harbor coach Stephanie Cox called Wright over to the sideline during a Holy Names set piece.
“I told her, ‘I believe in you. You’re going to score for us,’” Cox said. “I just had a feeling she was going to deliver for us and she did.”
That feeling proved true. As just a freshman, Wright earned the trust of her teammates and coaches over the course of Gig Harbor’s historically-successful season.
“This team is amazing,” Wright said. “The seniors are amazing. We all love each other, we all work well together and it just felt good to get it in the net and do it for my team.”
Junior teammate Alyssa Gray, a Washington State University commit, sang Wright’s praises, too.
“It’s just amazing,” Gray said. “She’s probably the smallest person I’ve ever played with. For her to be in the box and be able to finish that and not lose the ball, that’s absolutely amazing.”
Holy Names got on the board first, when forward Julia Causbie shot a rocket across the goal and into the top left corner of the net in the 22nd minute. For Gig Harbor, it meant having to play from behind, once again.
In Gig Harbor’s quarterfinal game against Edmonds-Woodway and semifinal matchup against Kamiakin, the Tides trailed until late in both games. So clawing back into the contest was nothing new for Gig Harbor.
“That was the message at halftime — that we’ve been here before,” Cox said. “We know how to come back. I told them to just have a belief that we could score. I was just so proud of the shift in the second half, we were able to play the ball more and build it. The way we played, encouraged and supported each other was just a huge shift from the first half. I’m just really proud of them.”
In the 59th minute, Gig Harbor’s Gray found the equalizer, getting behind the back line and finishing the shot with her customary precision.
From that point on, the Tides seemed to find a second wind, controlling the rest of the game and putting the Cougars’ defense on its heels. A game-winning goal felt inevitable.
“The last few games, we’ve been down a goal,” said Gig Harbor midfielder Anna Stewart, who also won a state championship as a member of the Gig Harbor High basketball team last season. “(Gray’s) goal was huge. Just to get something like that, it gets us motivated to put another one in.”
Winning a state championship is a difficult enough ordeal on its own — but doing it with no ties or losses? That’s another feat entirely.
“It’s just a matter of the character of these girls and this program,” Gray said. “We have an amazing coaching staff. We were learning up until this game. There’s always things to improve on. We worked our butts off.”
Cox heaped praise onto her players, while also crediting her coaching staff for making the Tides the “most prepared” team in every game.
“We talked about leaving a legacy,” Cox said. “Obviously, there’s a legacy in a record, in the stats, in a perfect season. But there’s also a legacy in how they did it — how they performed, their attitudes, the way they embraced underclassmen. The seniors left a lasting impact on this program. ... I’m just so proud of the heart that they showed.”