When Gig Harbor High School girls soccer coach Dani States can’t get through to standout defender Emery Wallerich in soccer terms, she can always go a different route.
“I was a basketball player, and so was she,” States said. “The two sports correlate a lot. You block out a girl when shots come in.”
In fact, Wallerich, a 5-foot-10 senior captain headed to Oregon State University, is a bit of a shot-blocker in the Tides’ goal — a big reason why the third-place team from the 4A Narrows is in the state semifinals for the second time in four seasons. Gig Harbor plays Central Valley in the 4A semifinals Friday at 8 p.m. at Sparks Stadium.
Wallerich is tall. She is smart. She is relentless. And she has a tendency to erase any scoring threat that comes her way.
“I was definitely a defensive player for basketball, and never an all-star shooter or anything,” Wallerich said. “I kind of know what to watch for, what mistakes that are going to be made — more of the off-the-ball stuff.”
Because of recurring concussions, Wallerich had to end her basketball career in the middle of high school.
She recalls the first concussion she suffered in the eighth grade, when her older sister kneed her during a basketball game.
A year later, she suffered one so severe it began affecting the way she went about playing sports in general.
“I noticed I was intimidated going up to head balls in soccer, or go in for tackles,” Wallerich said. “We tried headgear, but found out it didn’t do anything.”
A third concussion happened in the first game of varsity basketball in 2012-13. Shortly thereafter, she gave up that sport for good.
Wallerich said she came to a crossroads in soccer, too, and convinced herself she could not play timid.
“I just realized I could not let it affect my game anymore,” Wallerich said. “So I said, ‘Screw it,’ and … I finally found my (aggressiveness) again.”
This season, Gig Harbor snuck into the West Central District playoffs with help after Stadium defeated Bellarmine Prep to give the Tides the final berth.
In the district tournament, the Tides beat 4A South Puget Sound League schools Federal Way and Puyallup in shootouts. As the second shooter, Wallerich converted both penalty kicks in those shootouts.
In the first round of the state playoffs, Gig Harbor made it three in a row in shootouts — this time over SPSL Northeast champion Kentridge.
But on Saturday, for a change, the Tides won one in regulation, beating 4A KingCo powerhouse Issaquah, 1-0.
Wallerich was right in the middle of it, too — by putting her basketball training to the test.
The sequence came right after halftime in the 46th minute. States motioned for Wallerich to camp out right in front of Eagles’ goalkeeper Anna Miller.
“I told Emery, ‘Think basketball here, and get in front of her,’ ” States said. “I did not want the ball to get to the goalkeeper, so let it land in the (penalty) box without her doing much.”
The corner kick came in Wallerich’s direction in front of the goal. She shielded Miller from the play. The ball took one bounce in open space to sophomore forward Leahi Manthei, who kicked it in for the game-clinching goal.
Wallerich might not have been credited with any sort of statistic, but she was as pivotal as any player making the play happen.
“She is not fazed by pressure,” States said. “There is no franticness in her. No matter what goal scorer is coming at us … you feel comfortable with her back there.”
Central Valley has one of the best forwards in the state coming to town in sophomore Kelsey Turnbow. She has four goals in these state playoffs.
“I know her just from what people have been saying,” Wallerich said. “I really try and not focus on that, but only that she is a player that I have to adjust to — you know, watch what her moves are, and go from there.
“But I am always up for a challenge.”