This nucleus of the senior class has lifted the Falcon soccer team to new heights: from the left, Alison Papritez, Ashley Ricketts, Samantha Ollis, Mallory Drye, Nicole Helseth and Lila McCleary. (Photo by Jim Waller/South Whidbey Record)

This nucleus of the senior class has lifted the Falcon soccer team to new heights: from the left, Alison Papritez, Ashley Ricketts, Samantha Ollis, Mallory Drye, Nicole Helseth and Lila McCleary. (Photo by Jim Waller/South Whidbey Record)

Senior center: 12th graders core of Falcons’ success / Soccer

When you look at the “math” of the growing success of the South Whidbey High School soccer team, it is not hard to locate the common denominators — the senior class and coach Terry Swanson.

The class of 2019-20 began playing recreational soccer at an early age and then select soccer as eighth graders. The select team was basically a U15 club, but was short players. They added several older (as well as younger) girls to fill out the roster.

That forced the team to play in the U17 division even though most were 14 and some a year younger. That also forced the group to grow up in a hurry on the soccer pitch, as the team lost 11 of 12 matches and was out-scored 56-7 playing against older kids, according to coach Terry Swanson.

“I learned very quickly they were a special group of players who would later form the foundation of success in our high school soccer program,” Swanson said. “They never lost confidence in themselves or their teammates. They understood the importance of losing close games to strong competition versus playing weaker opponents for the simple sake of winning. Most importantly, they learned the importance of delayed gratification.”

The following year the group won the select league championship and finished second in the state tournament.

When they entered high school, they “brought a new soccer culture” with them, according to Swanson.

As freshmen, the group joined a team coming off a two-win season. They, too, won only two matches, but the nucleus of Mallory Drye, Nicole Helseth, Lila McCleary, Samantha Ollis, Alison Papritz and Ashley Ricketts gained valuable varsity experience.

Swanson took over as the high school head coach the following season, and the Falcons raised their win total to five heading into the postseason.

“Then it all clicked,” Helseth said.

The Falcons won four of their seven playoff matches, earning their first state tournament berth since 2003.

Last fall they went 11-8-1, posting the Falcons’ first winning season in more than 15 years.

They also beat powerhouse King’s for the first time in 19 years after being out-scored 110-3.

This year they are 14–2-1, including 9-1 in conference play and another win over King’s. The seniors completed the climb from last to first during their high school career, tying for the championship with the Knights this fall.

That all fits into the team’s motto, “Play into November,” the month of the playoffs.

Their success, they said, is formed on a foundation of friendship.

“We have been building the program for several years,” Drye said. “We have been working up to this level.”

“We are tightly knit,” McCleary said.

“We have been playing together for so long,” Ricketts added, “we know everyone’s strengths and weaknesses.

“Our class shows a lot of respect for each other, and you play better when you are kind to each other.”

Helseth added that “everyone is important, on and off the field.”

Swanson noted that the class of 2019-20 has “produced a sibling-like chemistry that most urban teams never experience.”

Mix their work ethic and dedication during summer and autumn training sessions with that chemistry, and the high school program is “reaping rewards on the field,” according to Swanson.

Drye pointed out that the group is selfless.

“We all have individual goals, but we tend to focus on our overall goals,” she said.

Papritz illustrates that comment.

Last year she set a school record by scoring 32 goals.

This year she has less than a quarter of that because she’s been asked to take a different role, that of a distributor.

Instead of being disappointed, she is excited.

“I really like passing,” she said. “I like being the attacking mid.”

Ricketts said their class’s success is helping the future of the program.

“We have the revival of a JV team,” she said. “When kids are on the edge about whether to turn out, they see the strength of the program and the positivity we have and they try out.”

Sometimes during pregame introductions, the Falcons walk on the field with players from the local youth league.

“The girls are so excited,” Drye said, noting those kids will someday carry that enthusiasm onto the South Whidbey pitch.

“Our senior players have provided the foundation upon which Falcon pride in the girls soccer program has been re-established,” Swanson said.

Although he won’t take credit, Swanson is responsible for helping bring all that talent and character to the surface.

“He is such an amazing coach,” Ricketts said. “He is so good at pushing us, knowing our weaknesses and strengths.”

Helseth added that Swanson can be critical but always tries to make his coaching positive, which resonates with the team.

This year’s roster also includes seniors Karyna Hezel, Julianna Larson-Wickman, Drayah Artis, Alexandra Bannister, Makenna Morley and Chandra Wallace.

“When our season ends after a final game in November, I will be extremely sad because I know I will never coach these players again, but in the same respect, I will be happy because I know that they will be successful in their future endeavors if they follow their present pathways,” Swanson said. “I will miss their presence on the soccer field (and) in our small community, and am thankful that I have had this opportunity to coach them during their tenure and share with them their passion for the game.”