MOUNT VERNON — Last season, the Skagit Valley College women’s soccer team just missed making the Northwest Athletic Conference playoffs.
Coach Tony Savoy hopes that isn’t the case this season.
“We have a really good group of freshmen,” said Savoy, whose team went 9-7-1 last season. “And we return several quality players as well. It’s a good mix ... I’m super excited about this season. Everyone showed up to work and they are really starting to click and bond as a team.”
Leading the returners are a pair sophomores — defender Alex McBeath of Ferndale and midfielder Morgan Jones. McBeath is a two-time captain for the Cardinals.
Savoy said it has taken him some time, but he’s finally making headway in getting players from soccer clubs to the south.
“I have been able to crack into some of those clubs,” he said. “I’ve got some players from Rush and Pac Northwest and from Snohomish.”
The coach is expecting good things from freshmen players Mackenzie Carnell of Kent, Payton Boehm of Bellingham, Delaney Kaynser of Snohomish and Bonnie Martin of Bothell.
It’s freshman Amber Elliano of Lake Stevens, however, who has really impressed Savoy.
“She is good on the ball,” he said. “She has a soft touch, but at the same time, she can really hammer the ball.”
Conference-wise, Peninsula won the title last season and Savoy believes it will be the team to beat this year.
“This entire (North) region is going to be improved,” he said. “Whatcom is going to be good, Shoreline will be much stronger and so will Edmonds. They both have new coaches.
“As long as we can stay healthy, we have a good shot at making the playoffs.”
Coach Joe Spencer has been impressed with what he’s seen from his squad.
Now it’s a matter of carrying it over to the regular season and improving on last year’s mark of 9-9.
“We have looked good early,” Spencer said. “I am extremely pleased with the fast tempo and high intensity we’ve been playing with during training camp.”
The Cardinals return a solid group highlighted by a pair of defenders — Jaime Vazquez of Mount Vernon and Christian Gordon of Yakima.
Spencer said he’s excited to have those two defenders returning.
Speaking of defense, Spencer is more than pleasantly surprised at having a skilled goalkeeper. Shuya Higashida is an exchange student from Japan who decided to try out for the team.
“He’s very good,” Spencer said. “We also have Amadore Quiroga returning to goal.”
Up front, Edgar Ramirez returns and looks to already be in midseason form.
“He’s an exciting player,” Spencer said. “To go with him, we have a bunch of newcomers who are technically skilled. We should be able to play entertaining soccer.”
Peninsula seems to be the soccer program everyone is chasing. Spencer said Peninsula and Whatcom will be the teams to beat.
“Peninsula is the favorite,” he said. “For us to be successful and give those teams a run, we have to play mistake-free soccer. In the past, we have made dumb mistakes and that has killed us. We are certainly fit enough and strong enough. Everything is in place. We just can’t afford mistakes.”
The Cardinals went to the Northwest Athletic Conference Tournament last year.
With a handful of returning veterans and an injection of promising newcomers, the Cardinals hope to make a return engagement.
Taylor Lamb, Allison Chase and Crystalynn Tula’i are among the returning sophomores. They say if this year’s team has success, it will start with the players’ attitudes.
“Being more aggressive, lifting each other up — positive vibes, always positive vibes,” Tula’i said.
Chase said, “We want to be a family. Family is big here.”
In addition to returning players, this year’s squad has freshmen who coach Zach Calles thinks will make an impact.
A few hail from just south on Interstate 5: outside hitter Paityn Palmer and libero Teaghan Eddy are both recent Stanwood High School graduates, and Brooklynn Johnson, a setter, isn’t from much farther away — she’s a Marysville-Pilchuck graduate.
“This year we have a lot of consistent, well-rounded players,” Lamb said.
Calles said defense and a strong serving game are likely to be the Cardinals’ strengths.
“Our strength will be our defense,” he said. “We have capable, aggressive defenders.”
Calles wants this year’s squad to further disrupt opponents by serving well. He thinks the talent they have on board should get the job done.
He said Palmer holds Stanwood’s school record for most service aces.
“We expect to be a strong serve and service-receive team,” he said.