From her perch as the only four-year member of the South Whidbey High School soccer team, senior Maddy Drye holds the best vantage point among the Falcons to view the growth of their program.
Drye was one of a half-dozen freshmen to join the team in the fall of 2015; all but one other slipped away. That one, senior reserve Carli Newman, returned this year after sitting out her sophomore and junior seasons.
The players left for various reasons, including the lack of success by the program, according to Drye.
Drye stuck through the growing pains and now leads a young, talented team.
South Whidbey won only two matches in 2015 and 2016. Last fall, the Falcons made a modest improvement to four wins during the regular season. Then came the program’s turning point.
All the bumps and bruises, losses and lessons were parlayed into a surprising run in the postseason.
South Whidbey won four of six playoff games and qualified for the state tournament for the first time since 2003.
This regular season, with Drye serving as a mother hen to a roster full of underclassmen, including five freshmen, South Whidbey won nine matches, nearly twice as many as any Falcon team over the past decade.
The change, Drye said, came with the arrival of coach Terry Swanson and assistants Anne Haines and Kendra Warwick. Swanson created an off-season team two years ago to feed the high school program and took over the Falcons last year.
Swanson “brought knowledge and a positive perspective,” Drye said. “He helped develop a strong team chemistry; he forced us to have fun.”
“Now we know when to have fun and when to get to work,” she added. “We have a great balance.”
South Whidbey (11-8-1) placed second in North Sound Conference behind defending state champion King’s.
The Falcons handed the Knights their only league loss. King’s beat South Whidbey 5-0 Sept. 27, but the Falcons, and their new-found confidence, bounced back to clip the Knights 2-0 Oct. 17.
As a freshman, Drye said, it wasn’t even on the radar that the Falcons could compete with King’s. This year’s team expects it.
“We know we are a playoff team,” Drye said. “It started with a dream. Instead of freaking out, these players developed. We wanted to be taken seriously.”
“This group is so consistent,” she added. “Even if we didn’t have a good week, we stayed positive. We knew we could beat any team we played.”
Drye accepts and cherishes her role as a mentor to the younger players. It has been a matter of pride, she said, to watch them grow and develop.
Swanson’s starting lineup usually includes four or five freshmen, and Drye “has provided support and leadership” all season, he said.
“She has been a tremendous mentor,” Swanson added. “She is an amazing young woman and a pleasure to coach.”
Drye is proud to be role model.
“I take the responsibility to help them succeed seriously,” she said. “They are such a good group of girls. The past two years, there has been a core of girls who play soccer for the right reasons, and they bring a positive energy to practice every day.”
That wasn’t always the case, she added. In her early years, there was no positive vibe.
“You had to find it within yourself to push yourself every practice,” Drye said.
Not only is soccer now a positive experience, but Drye gets to share it with her sister, Mallory Drye, a junior teammate.
“It’s fun to be able talk to someone who understands what is going on,” she said. “It’s nice to have someone to lean on after practices and games.”
Fitting, since the entire squad leans on her.