Tying for the second most wins in program history and registering a fourth consecutive runner-up finish in the Northwest Conference made it relatively easy for first-year head coach Cole McCool to sum up Linfield’s successes during the 2014 season.
“It was as good as it could have been without winning conference.”
After compiling a 15-4 record, garnering three first team picks among six total all-NWC selections and sending off one of the best senior classes in program history, there are many positives to recall and reflect upon. But diving deeper, two key points of the season really defined the team’s spirit, determination and character.
A week and a half into October, the Wildcats sat at 4-3 in the Northwest Conference after losses to Puget Sound, Whitman and Pacific Lutheran. Before embarking on the second half of the league schedule, the team had a conversation and set a goal of winning its final nine matches. The team went 8-1.
And even after a late-season loss 1-0 to Puget Sound that all but dashed their title hopes, the Wildcats ended the year with two hard-fought wins, including a 2-0 season-finale victory over Pacific Lutheran that dropped the Lutes from the top of the team standings into a share of second place, tied with the Wildcats.
“We knew after (the UPS match) that it was nearly impossible for us to win, and we still showed up our last weekend and won two big games,” McCool said.
Linfield at times struggled to finish in big moments, such as when the Wildcats outshot their opponent 17-4, hit the post and missed a penalty kick in a loss to PLU or did not make good on first-half opportunities in that final loss to UPS. And sometimes, the ball just didn’t bounce the team’s way.
However, the Wildcats did not suffer any “bad losses.” All four Northwest Conference losses came to the league’s top teams, and all were one-goal differentials.
On a roster stacked with talent and experience, there was no shortage of stellar individual performances.
All-time leading scorer and unanimous all-NWC first team honoree Emily Fellows tallied a league-high 13 goals while dishing out three assists. This came despite playing out of position – as a center midfielder – for much of the year.
“It took away some of her stats in terms of goal scoring, but she was as effective as I’ve ever seen her,” McCool said. “She was such a good teammate and so willing to do that, to take a step back to help the team in a deeper position. It was really cool how she embraced that role. I was really impressed.”
All-Northwest Conference picks Ellie Schmidt (seven goals, six assits) and Emma Vukic (two goals, league-high seven assists) had arguably their best years yet. Schmidt’s speed and athleticism on the wing were serious challenges to any team in the league, while Vukic’s creativity resulted in several Wildcat goals.
Marisa Specht demonstrated that she is one of the league’s most unique playmakers and a dangerous threat in one-on-one situations, Lauren Pyrch did a lot of the dirty work and playmaking, if sometimes unseen, and Dani Nurmi proved to be a key reserve, totaling seven goals, including four in one match.
Armed with a potent and proven offensive attack, Linfield knew it would have no trouble scoring. The team set a goal, then, to not give up more than one goal in any given game. Linfield achieved this in all but two matches. The Wildcats posted eight shutouts and allowed only 13 goals on the year, just three over the last eight matches.
Individually, midfielder and first team all-league pick Lindzee Baker was once again the definition of consistency and dominance, while Kendra McSheridan, Regan Cox, Erin Moller and Shelby DeRocher formed a stifling back line.
McKena King and Laurel Huth split time as goalkeepers, despite having never logged a varsity minute and in Huth’s case, never having played the position. The duo recorded at least six wins apiece and combined for a 0.68 goals-against average, third best in the league.
“From where we were at the start of the year, having zero goalkeepers, to having two you can trust is pretty awesome,” McCool said.
Even with all of that talent – which at time presented challenges in trying to fit all of the best players on the field at the same time – Linfield had great team chemistry, took winning and losing in stride and maintained high levels of energy and play through the end of the year.
“In general it was a really good year, but our ultimate goal is to win conference,” McCool said. “We did so many good things but didn’t quite get exactly what we wanted so it’s bittersweet.”