PORT ANGELES — The Peninsula College women’s soccer sophomores remembered too well the sting of losing in the NWAC championship in 2017 after a record-breaking season.
That team went into the championship match undefeated, having utterly shattered the all-time NWAC record for goals scored. They got into a scoreless defensive struggle with Highline and lost 1-0 early in overtime.
And this year’s team? Well, record-breaking scorers Sydney Warren and Jordyn DiCintio had graduated on to four-year programs and the Pirates’ season got off to an inauspicious start, with two nonconference losses, one of them a 4-2 loss to that same Highline team.
“We all got together and agreed that this is not how our season is going to go,” midfielder Emilee Greve said.
Since those two losses, the Peninsula women went on to go undefeated the rest of the season, storming all the way through the NWAC playoffs with three straight shutouts to win its fourth championship, the most ever by any NWAC women’s soccer team.
“Last year’s team there was so much pressure,” said defendner Samantha Guzman, who had a goal in the championship match against Clark on Sunday. “This year, we were kind of underdogs. Who doesn’t like underdogs? I think we embraced it.”
Last year’s champion, Highline, went into the NWAC quarterfinals undefeated in league play. Its one loss was to a school in California.
“Highline took all the attention,” said Greve, who scored Peninsula’s second goal in Sunday’s 2-0 win. “I think they thought they could win because of the attention.”
This week, the women are sore, covered in bruises after two extremely physical matches against Highline and Clark. Both teams pressed late, desperate for a goal and both games got rough at the end.
In the Highline match, goalkeeper Andrea Kenagy had to make two spectacular saves in the last 12 minutes to save the game.
“Andrea didn’t even know if she wanted to play college soccer,” Guzman said. “She made those saves, and I said ‘Oh, my God.’ It was crazy.”
In the Clark match, the Pirates’ defense was so airtight, the Penguins didn’t get any particularly dangerous chances in the last 30 minutes.
Guzman said they called the back line with Halle Watson the “steel wall.”
“If we had to defend for 30 minutes, we would,” Watson said.
Watson was in particular a force on defense, single-handedly breaking up attack after attack in the Final Four.
“I like being destructive,” she said.
This year’s team played with a bit of a chip on its shoulder, perhaps because of that crushing loss last year against Highline. The women just didn’t get revenge on Highline. Edmonds learned the hard way not to get the Pirates riled up. The one blip in the women’s record after their first two losses was a tie with Edmonds. In the next game between the Pirates and the Tritons, Peninsula poured it on with a 13-1 win, sending a message to the North Division and the NWAC that Peninsula had not somehow slipped a notch.
After that tie with the Tritons on Sept. 22, the women won 13 in a row, outscoring their opponents 54-3.
After knocking off Highline Friday in what Guzman said was a “grudge match” (It was the fourth match in four years in the Final Four between the two powerhouses), the women had to face Clark on Sunday, a team that incredibly had given up just one goal in league play, outscoring its opponents 52-1.
Guzman said the women weren’t intimidated by that 52-1 statistic.
The Pirates shocked the Penguins with a goal in the first five minutes on a perfect set piece involving Halle Watson and Guzman. Watson hit a perfect free kick into the penalty box and Guzman headed the pass into the goal.
“We never really practiced that,” Watson said.
Scoring such an early goal is a two-edged sword, Guzman said. A team could take the attitude that now it had to hold on for 85 minutes without giving up. Or the players can take the attitude that they can go out and score more goals.
“I looked at it that we got one goal, we’re going to get more,” Guzman said.
“We were hungry,” said Greve.
“Starving,” Guzman added.
Greve provided that second goal just 10 minutes later on a rare direct goal off a corner kick. This is exceptionally difficult to do and takes a shot with a lot of bend to it.
“I did it a few times in high school. Coach Kanyon pushed me to try it in a game. It just happened to be in the last game of the season,” Greve said.
Though the women had a few big-scoring games (one game of 13 goals, two of 12 goals), they won a number of games this year by scores of 1-0 and 2-0. In the playoffs, the Pirates won games by scores of 1-0, 1-0 and 2-0, going 392 straight minutes without giving up a goal to finish the season.
“Winning 10-0, 8-0 [in 2017], we got spoiled,” Guzman said.
“We were definitely comfortable in close games,” Greve said.
All of them are looking at schools, though none of them have made a decision. For now, they’re resting, recovering from their bumps and bruises and getting ready for the school’s celebration today. They’re also catching up on their homework.