Evan Thompson / The Record — South Whidbey sophomore Mallory Drye dribbles the ball during a 3-on-3 drill.

New goals set a high bar for Falcon girls soccer squad | FALL SPORTS PREVIEW

South Whidbey’s girls soccer team is being trained to enter matches with the mindset of not only competing, but winning.

This approach will be put to the test when the Falcons open their league schedule two of the top teams in the state in King’s and Archbishop Murphy in mid-September. Both placed third in the 2016 class 1A and 2A state championships, respectively.

New head coach Terry Swanson knows the odds are stacked against the Falcon squad that finished last in the Cascade Conference with a 2-12-2 overall record, but he’s confident South Whidbey will show its teeth when push comes to shove.

“I’m optimistic, also I’m not naive,” Swanson said. “These players are being trained to go into those games with an attitude that we’re not just there to compete. We want to win those games. I think people will be surprised.”

Swanson wasn’t joking when he told a Record reporter that he wants the Falcons to win the league’s 1A division, which includes King’s, Sultan and Cedar Park Christian.

“That’s how I feel about it,” Swanson said. “I think the girls feel the same way.”

Swanson’s optimism shines light on the type of enthusiasm and mindset that he wants the girls to embrace. Senior Emma Barker and junior Maddy Drye sensed Swanson taking the program in a new direction during the first week of practice and are happy to see where it’s heading.

“I feel like we’re moving a lot quicker and are going to be more ready for our first game,” Barker said. “I feel like it’s gonna be a good season.”

Drye said she’s noticed there is more communication happening between teammates, even between the varsity and junior varsity squads.

“It’s good to bring everyone together more at the beginning of the season rather than just individuals,” Drye said.

Building chemistry and figuring out where players fit into the new program Swanson is building will be paramount to the season, Drye added.

Swanson said his expectations are seeing individual player development across all facets of the game, reducing goals scored against the Falcons by at least 50 percent from last season and increasing goals scored by 25 percent.

“If we do that, we’re going to have a winning season,” Swanson said.

The first step toward success, Swanson says, is developing a defensive-minded team that can beat its opponents during one-on-one encounters. Teaching girls the ropes of how to tackle properly, how to cover their opponents and how to position their bodies correctly to win possession of the ball are among the key factors with strong defensive play, Swanson said.

“We’re focusing on defense first, then we’ll start worrying about scoring goals later,” Swanson said.

The Falcons trained with several three-on-three drills during the first week of practice. The small numbers are by design; if there are fewer players in any given drill, Swanson says the girls will grow far more comfortable with handling the ball as well as stealing it back from their opponents as opposed to a larger exercise where they may not come into contact with the ball as much.

“I think we’re becoming more confident in offense,” Drye said. “I think we’re going to have a lot more shooting opportunities and a lot more power behind the balls.”

Drye and Barker feel the Hezel sisters — Mikayla and Karyna — will be vital to the Falcon offense, while sophomore goalkeeper Nicole Helseth is also expected to play a pivotal role. Other players to watch out for include sophomore Ashley Rickets and freshman Emily Vanberg.