FALL SPORTS PREVIEW | Program swells under second-year coach Rusch, ready for district wins

Olivia Bolding, sophomore forward, practices distance shooting during a recent drill.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Olivia Bolding, sophomore forward, practices distance shooting during a recent drill.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

LANGLEY — The expectations are higher this year for the Falcon girls soccer team.

And while other teams are chasing titles, South Whidbey set its sights closer to the turf than the clouds. Head coach Ben Rusch wants to have a .500 winning percentage, an increase of three Cascade Conference victories. To get there, Rusch said, the Falcons will need an attitude adjustment.

“It’s going to take a little bit more of a serious attitude at practice,” Rusch said.

A cadre of returning varsity seniors will lead the group of 30 Falcons (varsity and JV) this season. Most of the senior leadership will play defense, including goalkeeper Ellie Greene, center defender Lindsey Grimm and defender Jenna Kaik. Greene, in only her second season with the Falcons, has emerged as an athletic goal stopper. Last season, her dives and willingness to step out of the box to challenge one-on-ones garnered her teammates’ praises. But that’s not what brought Greene back for her senior season — the coach did.

“I liked Ben as a coach, so I came out again this year,” said Greene, who only has four years total of organized soccer experience.

Grimm, one of the team’s vocal leaders, also stuck with soccer because of the second-year coach. She considered leaving for a foreign exchange, but chose to stay on South Whidbey partially because of her commitments to the Falcon soccer team.

“I decided I might as well stay and try,” Grimm said.

Being friends and having fun is well and good, but the two seniors want more out of the final season. They believe in Rusch’s vision of being at least a .500 team and winning a district playoff match. As the defensive leader, it will be Grimm’s job to position the defense and control the middle of the field.Maia Sparkman works on one-touch passing during a recent practice. The junior midfielder is expected to aid the offense with her passing and field vision.

“My expectations are that people do their jobs, people work up to their potential,” Grimm said.

“We have to be solid and communicate a lot.”

Last season, the Falcon defense allowed 36 goals against Cascade Conference teams, a distant third-worst behind Sultan (81) and Coupeville (62). South Whidbey’s total was high, however, compared to the top half of the conference in Cedarcrest, Lakewood, Archbishop Murphy and King’s, all of which allowed single digit goals for the season.

“Out of my defense, I’d like to see them not give up, take on their role and fight for every ball and possession,” Rusch said.

Offensively, Rusch said his mids and forwards had progressed faster than the defense a few days before the first match against Oak Harbor. He credited a larger number of quality ball handlers than last year for the change, including sophomores Olivia Bolding and Samantha Baldwin and junior Maia Sparkman.

“The number of girls we have with ball control is high,” Rusch said.

“I’d like them to be more dynamic and more patient so they’re less willy-nilly.”

Then he has his sprinting, sliding and physical forward, senior Paige Farmer. Last year, she was knocked out for part of the season with a knee injury after a solid start. Rusch said she was an important key to the offense and summed up his expectations for her in one word: goals.

“I’m expecting her to take control of what happens this season,” Rusch said.

South Whidbey scored the third-fewest goals in the conference with 14, only ahead of Sultan and Coupeville. The players need to find their passion for winning, Grimm said, which was lost the last few years during single-digit win seasons.

“It takes determination and a want to win,” she said. “The more you want it, the harder you will try to correct your mistakes.”

“We need to be pushed to not give up, to have the mental toughness to say, ‘I messed up. I’ll get the next one.’”

The seniors look forward to facing Coupeville, now both a Whidbey Island and a state rival. Both schools are 1A, a student body classification determined by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association. Grimm especially noted the competitiveness of the past meetings like last year’s 1-0 and 2-1 South Whidbey victories.

“It’s always a close game. I hope it’s not this year,” Grimm said.

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