Accustomed to nothing worse than a runner-up league finish in recent years, Linfield admittedly had a bit of a tough pill to swallow in placing fourth in the Northwest Conference standings in 2015. Fortunately, this increasingly high standard team was able to see past results and delve deeper into what was still a highly successful season on the pitch.
At first glance, the bad breaks, injuries to key contributors and missed opportunities stand out. With the injury bug spreading to multiple players at different points of the year, the Wildcats featured the same starting lineup in just two matches. The team limped through a 0-2-2 stretch late in the year and went 0-2-4 in overtime matches, with multiple on-frame shots going awry in most of those extended contests.
But through it all, the Wildcats achieved a 10-5-4 overall record, including a 7-5-4 mark against league opponents. Linfield registered its seventh consecutive 10-win year, registered a perfect nonconference slate at 4-0 and responded from that late-season slide to finish 2-0-1, including a key double-overtime tie against Pacific Lutheran. The ‘Cats never lost a match by more than one goal and finished fourth among league leaders in goal scoring and third in goals allowed.
“Considering everything that happened and all of the challenges we went through, we can be proud of our record and proud of a good season,” said head coach Cole McCool. “It’ll be a year that will benefit us in the long run. We could have very easily thrown in the towel because we were so used to being so good. But we never did that.”
Emma Vukic capped off her career with a prolific 11-goal season that earned her first team all-Northwest Conference honors and put her among Linfield’s top five all-time leaders in points, goals, game-winning scores and assists. In addition to registering one of the program’s best single-season performances, the quality of Vukic’s goals was “unreal” according to McCool, who cited the senior’s ability to dribble half the length of the field through multiple defenders before putting away many of those 11 goals.
Rachael Gernhart supplied six additional scores, including a pair of two-goal outings against Lewis & Clark and Pacific, in her final season as a Wildcat.
The rest of the Wildcat offense was relatively quiet. With nine goal contributors in all, Linfield achieved one half of its target offensive distribution (7-10) but fell short in its quest to have two or three double-digit scorers. Only two – Sami Moellmer and Shelby DeRocher – had multiple-goal years, totaling two scores apiece.
Numbers don’t always tell the whole story, however.
Marisa Specht contributed great minutes, excelling in four different positions: wide left, wide right, center midfield and left back. Despite playing much of the middle of the season through injury, Moellmer factored heavily into Linfield’s offensive attack, while Emilie Kongsore and Brianna Norris filled a key position in the center midfield.
“There’s a lot of pride on our team with the amount of success we’ve had in the past. They’re never okay with losing and not having success, so they’re constantly fighting,” McCool said. “The mentality of our team to never stop competing regardless of result or the momentum of games was a real positive.”
Defensively, the Wildcats allowed the third fewest goals among Northwest Conference teams – 14 total, or a 0.69 per-game average – and logged six shutouts, including four in league play.
Those numbers came despite losing a key starting defender, Erin Moller, just six matches into the year. Regan Cox and Kendra McSheridan, the latter an all-conference second team honoree after a season in which she played a multitude of positions, supplied key leadership for an otherwise young backfield.
Freshman keeper Sarah Bailey had a stellar debut season, registering a 0.84 save percentage, third best among the league’s goaltenders. Annie Ferguson, one of four freshmen to start double-digit matches, was an all-conference honorable mention defender. Yasmeen Ramos was another steadying presence on the back line.
Reflecting on the performances of so many underclassmen in key roles, not out of necessity but because they truly deserved to be on the field, McCool expressed great optimism about the program’s continued ability to challenge for a conference championship.
“It’s a nice learning opportunity,” McCool said of the lasting impression of the 2015 season. “If we had continued to have the success we’ve always had we would have just continued to do what we always did. But now we’re going to crank it up. They’ll do a lot more in their down time and expectations will be even higher.”