If there’s anything that could hold South Whidbey girls soccer back from ending a four-year playoff drought, it’s a lack of depth.
The Falcons are composed primarily of underclassmen, while veteran players are few or have been hit with the injury bug. Senior middle back Emma Barker, a critical defensive force for the Falcons, may be out for the season after suffering a knee injury in a 6-2 loss to Granite Falls on Thursday night. The Falcons are also without sophomore forward Lila McCleary, who injured her elbow in the season-opener against Everett, while several other Falcons are playing injured.
Injuries typically result in the need to bring up younger players who are unaccustomed to the speed of high school play, head coach Terry Swanson said. But, despite the cadre of youth, Swanson is still optimistic that securing one of three playoff spots in the class 1A division of the Cascade Conference is a realistic expectation.
“We don’t have a lot of depth yet,” Swanson said. “As far as players with experience, you might only have 11 of them. If you lose two, you’re bringing up players very quickly. They’re doing great, but you can’t have false expectations or illusions. You just have to stick to your program and develop players and help them succeed, and make sure as a coach you have a positive environment.”
The Falcons (2-4-1 overall, 0-3-1 in the Cascade Conference) fared well prior to the start of league play, beating Coupeville 4-2 on Sept. 7 and Port Townsend 4-2 on Sept. 9. League opponents proved to be a far more difficult challenge, as the Falcons were shutout by both Archbishop Murphy and King’s on Sept. 12 and Sept. 14, respectively.
The Falcons nearly beat Cedar Park Christian on Sept. 19 in a slug fest of a match. South Whidbey led the Eagles 5-3 in the second half, but a surge by Cedar Park Christian in the last 15 minutes closed the deficit. The teams went into overtime, but neither were able to score and the game ended in a tie. The Falcons had 31 total shots on goal in the match.
While the Falcons did not win, junior Sophie Hammer had even-keeled takeaways from the match.
“We definitely had a lot of opportunities that should have been goals, which is something we definitely have to work on,” Hammer said. “We’re normally such a defensive team, and so it’s really positive that we’ve improved ourselves.”
The Falcons are currently are on even ground with the Eagles (0-3-1 overall, 0-2-1 in league), while both teams are just a step ahead of Sultan (1-4-0 overall, 0-2-0 in league). South Whidbey plays Sultan at 1 p.m. on Saturday in a match with playoff ramifications.
King’s has a secure lead at 3-4-0 overall and 2-1-0 in the conference, which leaves two postseason bids up for grabs between the Falcons, Eagles and Turks. The Falcons were in a similar situation this past season, but were unable to secure a berth in the postseason. Barker is hoping to finally break through this year and end a four-year playoff drought.
“Terry is really excited about it and really wants to go to the playoffs, and that makes us really want to go to the playoffs, too,” Barker said. “I think we’re all really pumped and hoping to get there.”