TUKWILA — An upset-minded Peninsula College women’s soccer team is not something head coach Kanyon Anderson has much experience with in his tenure as the only head coach in the program’s nine-year history.
Winning three Northwest Athletic Conference (NWAC) championships, making three other finals appearances, earning eight straight division titles and eight consecutive appearances in the NWAC semifinals as the Pirate women have done will tend to accustom a program to a dynasty-like status.
Even with those kind of bona fides, Peninsula (17-2-1) will have to be at its best to knock off top-ranked Highline (16-1-1) in its semifinal match at 3 p.m. Friday at Starfire Soccer Complex in Tukwila.
A win Friday puts the Pirates in their third straight NWAC final at 1:30 p.m. Sunday against the winner of the other semifinal between Clark (13-1-1) and Tacoma (12-6-3).
When was the last time the Pirates were an underdog?
“Probably since the 2011 final in our second year as a program against Walla Walla. We faced a team going for a third straight championship,” Anderson said. “This is the only time being an underdog in a semifinal in almost a decade.”
The Pirates and Thunderbirds have developed a rivalry in recent seasons, having met in the previous two NWAC Championships, Peninsula winning in 2016 and Highline triumphing 1-0 in overtime over a previously unbeaten Pirates’ squad last season. And the T-Birds defeated Peninsula in the 2015 semifinals.
Highline also knocked off the Pirates 4-2 in each team’s season opener at the NWAC Friendlies at the same Starfire facility in August.
“I think both of us knew from the beginning of the season there was a pretty clear indication we would play each other again [in the semifinals],” Anderson said.
“I think they are clearly the favorites this time. When they beat us in 2015 it was a toss up, in 2016 [we] were better, in 2017 the team’s were super evenly matched. This year, I think most would think Highline is the favorite. The voting [in weekly polls by NWAC coaches] has played out that way.”
Anderson also points out that Highline has been able to play all four of those Final 4 contests against Peninsula on the T-Birds home field at Starfire — about 8 miles from the Highline campus.
“It’s something I’ve mentioned to the league president — the league lets them host the Final 4 every year because they think its a good environment for a game,” Anderson said.
Anderson and Peninsula may be tilting at windmills in terms of any future venue change. The NWAC has played its Final 4 contests at Starfire since 2005 — and there’s a certain cachet in playing at the training venue of the Seattle Sounders.
But the point stands: Highline has been enjoying some home cooking.
“The positive is we are in sort of a win-win or a no-lose situation,” Anderson said. “We’re not expected to win the game but we believe we can and that’s the approach we are taking. It doesn’t matter what others think about this game, we think we can. That’s the positive, but the negative is it’s a tough draw and the game is on their home field.
“We’ve had an awesome season and we have put ourselves in that position. It’s not going to be easy, but nothing really has been super easy this season. We have a group of players willing to do the work.”
Those players include six NWAC All-Stars, two forwards in Samantha Oliveira and Taylor Graham; two midfielders in Emilee Greve and Shauntel Torres-Benito and two defenders in Halle Watson and Sam Guzman.
“I feel like this team has a real blue-collar mentality, more so than teams we’ve had in the past,” Anderson said. Last year we were super high flying and other teams have caught your eye a little more. This year’s group has a quiet, steady work rate. We talk a little about the grit, this team being a gritty team.”
“This team has the ability to beat teams that are more talented than them. They have that characteristic of being able to stick around and win games.
“That’s the value I see in this group, it’s less about style and more about necessity. This team might maximize their talent better, that’s what I’m hoping for,” Anderson said.
Sports reporter Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-417-3525 or [email protected]