PORT ANGELES — This city is a lot of things. And now, 27 women are turning it into a magnet.
They’re the Pirate Women, the Peninsula College soccer team in only its second year of existence. With abundant kicks and the occasional bounce off the head, they’re also making Port Angeles into a cosmopolitan and victorious soccer town.
Kahli Fagg, 18, is one of the players pulled in from a far corner of the globe.
“This is life-changing,” says the star player who arrived from Brisbane, Australia, this past spring.
She means the soccer as well as the whole experience of moving from the Southern Hemisphere to the North Olympic Peninsula.
It was her sport that put her in touch with Peninsula College coach Kanyon Anderson, who recruited her as well as three other Australians: Rebecca Stewart from Casino and Zhaccierra Kanari and Brittany Dyer-Smith from Perth.
Anderson, along with assistant coach Amanda Anderson — his wife — also has a strong contingent from Alaska: Kimmy Jones from Anchorage, Jessica Farrell, Tabitha Bare, Kendra Miner and Ashlyn Frizzelle from Wasilla, Aubrey Briscoe from Juneau and Shelby Solomon from Fairbanks.
Together with the Aussies and the women from the Last Frontier are players from Washington’s rural places. Ellen Rodgers is from Okanogan, for example, and assistant coach Alle Petty was born and raised right here.
So the word has spread far — and near. With eight wins so far this season, the Pirate Women are a presence across the community. At Albertson’s, other shoppers see their black and gold sweatshirts and cry out, “Hey, how’s the team doing?”
Music professor David Jones is one of the on-campus supporters who emails players, just to wish them luck. Then there are the elementary-school-age girls who come to the matches to ask for autographs.
“It’s full on,” Fagg said of the diversity among fans.
And it’s standing-room only for home games, said Amanda Anderson. “We get more fans at our games than in ‘soccer-friendly’ places like Seattle . . . and sometimes, at away games, we have more fans than the home team.”
The fans bring their kids, and they wear those Pirate scarves, sold in the college’s Bookaneer bookstore, so they’re easy to spot from the field.
These athletes, though they may only be here for two years while earning their associate degrees, consider themselves community members and role models and help coach the Port Angeles Youth Soccer Club’s academy in the spring and fall.
That’s a win-win activity, in which the Pirate Women receive as much as they give. Teaching a skill, the teammates agree, sharpens one’s own.
Meantime, Anderson is eager to talk some more about her players.
“Ellen has an incredible work ethic,” she said of Rodgers.
And Fagg’s enthusiasm spills out of her; “I feel like she spurs her teammates on,” both on the field and off. Fagg organized a group volunteer effort during last-summer’s Dream Playground spruce-up, Anderson added.
For these women, the soccer field is a kind of microcosm of life.
“The game teaches respect: respect for your opponent, your team, your coaches,” said Farrell, 20. It’s also a fast way to get fit, and wet — not that Port Angeles’ precipitation ever dampens these players’ spirits.
“Just by playing, you get in shape. You’re having fun; you don’t even realize you’re running 6 miles,” said Anderson, who started her soccer career as a girl growing up in Farmington, Mass.
Cold plus rain is “the funnest weather to play in,” added Farrell. Hot, sunny soccer is slower, at least in her experience. When you run more, you stay warmer — and you play better.
“I’m more focused when it’s raining,” said Jones, 19. “You have to focus on your touch more,” since the ball and your shoes are slippery.
But what about heading the ball? Doesn’t that hurt? A lot?
The answer, called out by Jones, Farrell and Rodgers almost in unison: Not if you head it in the right place.
“You attack it,” said Jones. “Don’t let the ball hit you. You hit the ball.”
There have been times when the Pirate Women, with their laser focus, got the opposing team quite flustered, Anderson said.
“I like when the other team is getting upset, and our team is calm. We are just a team,” added Rodgers.
“We work harder than [the opponents] do,” said Jones.
Anderson added that Jones, a defensive player, is an inspiration to her fellow athletes. She is “one of our most mature and composed players,” the assistant coach said. “Kimmy leads both directly and by example.”
Jones’ fellow Alaskan, Farrell, is likewise a leader. She’s organized team camping trips, hikes and runs, Anderson noted. Farrell plans to transfer to Western Washington University, where she wants to play soccer and study to become a math teacher.
And earlier this season, Farrell received the Wally Sigmar Award, given annually to top male and female athletes who exemplify the leadership ability of Sigmar, the late soccer coach and Peninsula College president.
The players and their coaches are now recruiting more athletes from far afield, including players from Australia.
“They’re contacting us, said Petty, “which is nice, for a community college.”
As for the United States of America, one of the latest to join the international passion for soccer, the Pirate Women believe this is the sport of the future. ‘A girls’ sport’
“We get to do something we love, every day,” said Fagg. “Some girls think it’s a guys’ sport. It is a girls’ sport . . . and anyone can do it,” she added, “if you have the right mind set.”
Port Angeles is a sweet place to play, said Anderson. The support from the community, plus the Olympic Mountains, the proximity of both the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Pacific Ocean — they add up.
“I don’t like indoor sports too much,” Anderson said. The soccer field “is a big open space, with fresh air.”
Farrell feels that, too.“Out there, playing,” she said, “you just feel free.”