The 2018 high school soccer season was one Alyssa Gray will never forget.
For starters, the Gig Harbor junior forward committed to play at Washington State University. She led the Tides with 36 goals and 10 assists and helped them capture the Class 3A state title with a 2-1 win over Holy Names, scoring a crucial game-tying goal in the second half. Twelve of Gray’s 36 goals came in postseason play.
That victory allowed Gig Harbor to completed a perfect 23-0 season.
And now Gray is The News Tribune’s 2018 All-Area girls soccer player of the year.
“I’m never going to forget this team, ever,” she said. “I still can’t believe that we went undefeated this entire season. It’s just a matter of the character of these girls and this program. We have an amazing coaching staff. ... We worked our butts off.”
Gray has been making a name for herself for years now. While she started her freshman season on the junior varsity squad, she had made her way into the varsity starting squad by season’s end. That year, she played on another great Gig Harbor team, which posted an undefeated regular season, before being bounced in the opening round of the state playoffs.
That Tides team was led by current Seattle U forward Leahi Manthei, who was also a goal-scoring machine at Gig Harbor.
“Leahi taught me to never give up,” Gray said. “She taught me that working hard up top can help the whole team, even the defensive line. And to keep pushing for my goal to play in college.”
If Gray was a sponge, soaking up the knowledge and experience of her more veteran teammates as a freshman, her sophomore season was her breakout campaign. And in her junior season, she completely took over.
“Alyssa has always been a really dynamic player,” Gig Harbor coach Stephanie Cox said. “Her athleticism and skill on the ball — she’s just a passionate player.”
During Gray’s junior season, Cox saw a player who was dedicated to taking her game to the next level, especially off the ball.
“In the offseason, she really polished her game and the runs she makes,” Cox said. “She’s always been great at shooting the ball, threatening with her speed. I think her movement off the ball to get open, connect with our midfield really improved.
“Coming from her club season, she was really used to just checking to the ball, not really running in behind. We talked about her threatening the space behind the defense.”
Like all true goal scorers, Gray wants to score.
“She’s really competitive, really driven,” Cox said. “She’s not afraid to shoot. You want forwards who are willing to shoot, take some of that responsibly on themselves. She doesn’t shy away from that.”
That competitiveness was evident during the state tournament. Gray injured her hamstring against West Seattle in the opening game, and hobbled through the team’s final three games. The injury may have slowed her down, but it didn’t keep her from playing.
“I had some tape on to protect the muscle, which worked for about 20 minutes, and then the pain kind of came through,” Gray said. “It was hard and challenging.”
Gray has been a nightmare for opposing coaches to game plan against. Just ask Jenny Buys, the coach of Gig Harbor’s crosstown rival, Peninsula.
“You just do whatever you can to get in her way,” Buys said. “But you know you’re not going to stop her. My favorite thing about watching her play is that no ball is out of bounds for her. No ball is unreachable.
“She makes stuff happen where other kids will give up. There’s no angle that is too bad. It makes her tremendously hard to beat. All the other kids will give up, but she’s tenacious.”
While Buys won’t be thrilled to have to game plan against Gray for another year, she said Gray is a shining example of the work ethic it takes to excel at the high school level.
“It raises the standards for everybody in the league,” Buys said. “If you want to go Division I, this is what you need to do. Most players don’t want to sacrifice like she does.”
After such a phenomenal junior season, it’s hard to believe Gray still has one more high school season left.
“Scoring goals is fun, but I just want to make sure I leave a legacy with the team for the incoming freshmen, just to show them how much they can accomplish,” Gray said. “I just want to be a good leader for them.”