One of these years, the Wildcats are finally going to come out on top of the Northwest Conference women’s soccer standings, and all the frustrations of finishing in second place will be forgotten. But for now, a league championship remains a dream Linfield is left chasing after the Wildcats were runners-up for the third consecutive season.
The up-and-coming ‘Cats enjoyed another spectacular year in 2013, compiling a 15-4-1 overall record, including an 11-4-1 mark against league opponents. Linfield was perfect (10-0-0) at home for the second straight season, generated second highest offensive output in program history and employed a stingy defense that achieved nine shutouts. The Wildcats were included in the Top 25 for seven straight weeks, and garnered three all-region and one All-America selections.
However, Linfield occasionally struggled to maintain a consistent mental focus, particularly toward the end of the year, and a late-season stumble cost the team a shot at a program-first playoff invitation.
Through 17 matches, the Wildcats boasted a nearly spotless 15-1-1 record, and held a two-point lead in the Northwest Conference team standings. But beginning with a loss to league champion Puget Sound, now winner of 12 straight titles, Linfield dropped its final three contests, all on the road.
“It just weighs so heavy and puts a sour taste in your mouth again about the season,” said head coach Dominic Doty said of how the Wildcats ended the year. “But we can’t judge ourselves based on three games. I think the body of work for us is a more accurate and fair assessment of where we’re at.”
Linfield certainly solidified its position as one of the conference’s top programs, statistically dominating their opponents in most categories. In addition to leading the NWC in goals (48) and shots (400), the ‘Cats were also tough on the defensive end of the pitch, posting the league’s third lowest goals-against average (0.92) and surrendering a league-low 33 corner kicks.
A major piece of Linfield’s success was its talented personnel. The Wildcat roster included three-time NWC Offensive Player of the Year Emily Fellows, first team honoree Ellie Schmidt, four second team all-league picks and an honorable mention. But there were many others players who contributed to the team’s success, and their efforts did not go unnoticed.
“In terms of soccer ability, we’ve never had a team here with the soccer ability we have now,” Doty said. “You can look all over the field, and at different times of the year, different players were very good.”
Fellows yet again led the offensive attack, totaling 20 goals and scoring in 14 of 19 matches, including five multiple-goal contests. Schmidt was a dual threat, shutting down opponents in the defensive third while also serving as one of Linfield’s biggest playmakers, dishing out a conference-leading eight assists to go along with six goals.
Sophomores Tegan Grunwald, Marisa Specht and Emma Vukic, along with freshman Molly McCool, also factored heavily into the offense. Each contributed three or more goals, including Grunwald’s game winner in a double-overtime thriller against Whitworth, and combined for 11 of Linfield’s 26 assists.
Defensively, the Wildcats relied on a solid goalkeeper rotation, with Kallina Haase taking the majority of the starts (13) and minutes (1120) and registering a .80 goals against average. But Taylor Collinsworth was stellar in a combination backup/starter role, posting a 5-0-0 record and one shutout, and Amy Hammerquist made several big stops, including a penalty kick save, in four matches.
Lauren Pyrch, Kendra Howard and Erin Moller constituted the backbone of the field defense. Lindzee Baker started every match as the crux of the midfield, while Jalyn Halstead added quality minutes in a reserve role.
For a team made up of hardworking and determined women, the disappointment of this year only serves as extra motivation to finally get over the championship hurdle.
“Our players are continued to be motivated to get there,” Doty said. “Our team works hard. They want it for the right reasons.
“We’re pretty familiar with this second-place feeling. Every year it’s been a different challenge. But you pick the pieces up, move on and figure out how to take your deficiencies and make them strengths.”