Coming home to Gig Harbor
Heavy is the head that wears the crown, but the Gig Harbor girls soccer team hopes to make it look easy. And eventually, earn a chance to defend their 3A state championship with their revamped roster.
How will they do it? Simple.
By doing what brought them tremendous success last year: Taking it one game at a time.
“I think it’s fun. I wouldn’t say [there is] pressure as in ‘I’m nervous’ or any sort of expectation. I think it’s fun to think about,” said coach Stephanie Cox. “I just think that the same approach we had last year will be one moment, one game, one play at a time.”
After losing seniors like Hannah Carroll, the co-MVP of the 3A South Sound Conference, and Grace Neil, first team 3A SSC, Cox has found that her new crop of seniors are rising up to the challenge to lead this new team.
Two of the new seniors looking to lead the Tides are center back Abby Emery and forward Alyssa Gray, the SSC’s other co-MVP last season.
As a center back, Emery is able to see the entire field and watch everybody’s back. She also is in constant communication with the keeper, tying the whole team together.
“I feel like I play a pretty important role,” she said. “We’ve definitely been training a lot; a lot of conditioning and touches. What we are really working on is team bonding, because this is a new team. I feel like our fitness and training is pretty strong coming into the season already.”
Despite the newness of some of the players, the team is starting to develop a good chemistry thanks to the drills and games they do during practice.
“I feel like this team is coming together surprisingly well,” Emery said. “Compared to the one last year, we had a lot of history; but compared to this one, I feel like there is a lot of natural chemistry. The girls get along pretty naturally and I think that’s what is going to help us out on the field.”
And that building of natural chemistry falls right into the mantra of the team, according to Emery: Watch out for each other.
The players are constantly calling out what’s around them and helping each other be aware of what is happening on the field, showing that they are a team together rather than a group of individuals.
“Even this week while we were having tryouts and players are fighting for spots, you want to show individually [you are] emphasizing being connected,” Cox said. “That continued emphasis of team. You can’t do it on your own.”
Cox also brings a unique angle to coaching her players as she is also actively playing for the Reign FC in Tacoma. In her career, Cox has made it to the United States Women’s National Team and has played on big stages.
So she knows a thing or two about what her players are feeling.
“I’ve just been back this season, but it’s fun to think of myself as a player and then also be in their shoes,” she said. “I think that gives me more confidence to know that I have something to contribute at the beginning of the season for the Reign as a coach, then I definitely have something to offer these girls at the high school level.”
Cox’s return to the professional field has served as nothing short of inspiration for Gray as she was in attendance for her coach’s first game back.
“Honestly, she inspires me a lot. She gives us her stories about how she became who she is today,” Gray said. “For [I want] to play in college, she’s played in college and it’s really good to relate to.”
Gray, a Washington State University commit, is looking at her senior season as a warmup for her college career.
That’s not to say she won’t focus on the upcoming season though as she is very much excited by the thought of defending the Tides’ title.
“Each season is different… I have goals for this season and I hope to reach them,” she said. “Right now, I’m focusing on being a good leader for this program and representing it well. I want to make sure that when I get to WSU I’m ready, for this program to rise up and compete at a high level, and set a good standard.”
For Gig Harbor, there is an understanding that last season was great and worth remembering but this is a new team with a new set of expectations.
“We have a bunch of new people coming in and we have a huge program,” Gray said. “It all comes together based on how hard we work day in and day out. Each practice matters.”
The Tides will begin the defense of their championship on the road at 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 14 at Union High School.