YAKIMA, Wash. —Last year's La Salle team looked dominant most of the time en route to the program's second state soccer title.
Then the Lightning lost five key starters to graduation — and somehow came back just as dominant as before, if not more so. That's becoming more and more difficult to dispute as La Salle just keeps winning, usually by wide margins, such as the 8-1 defeat of Wahluke in Thursday's district title at Marquette Stadium.
Gillian Martin continued to lead the explosive scoring attack with a hat trick, and freshman central midfielder Kendall Moore resumed her role as the creator by controlling possession and scoring twice. Wahluke's typically potent offense rarely took shots thanks to a defense led by freshman sweeper Hailey Price and the work of defensive midfielders Lily Lancaster and Lily Sigler.
"Both Lily's, Sigler and Lancaster, are just absolutely phenomenal," coach Felix Hernandez said. "Without those two, last year and this year, we wouldn't be where we are."
They even contributed two of the game's most impressive goals from long range, one off a free kick for Sigler and another off a drop pass for Lancaster. The senior said Hernandez encouraged her to drive more shots toward the goal, so she blasted one into the upper left corner from nearly 30 yards out.
Her biggest responsibility, though, lies in stopping potent goalscorers such as Selah's Isabelle Moultray, Cle Elum's Grace Terrill, and on Thursday, Wahluke's SCAC East Player of the Year Ana Andrade. Just like those before her, including Terrill three times this season, Andrade failed to add to her goal total against the Lightning, largely thanks to Lancaster.
"I try to support other defenders matching up on her so they can always feel confident to come in and sweep the ball if they need," Lancaster said.
Hernandez said Lancaster and Sigler do their jobs so well it allows him to play more aggressively with three defenders. It also frees up Moore, whose elite playmaking skills in the middle of the field set up so much of what La Salle wants to do offensively.
Perhaps the only question left for the freshman will be how well she handles the pressure of the 1A state tournament, which will start next week at Marquette Stadium against an opponent to be determined on Saturday. La Salle still hasn't trailed all season, although Hernandez said Wahluke put more pressure than usual on his defense and even became the first team to erase a Lightning lead when Alondra Lozano tied the game at one.
"We have a few girls that are battle tested, but we have a lot of girls who, they're still learning," Hernandez said. "We have some people stepping into some big roles and I'm anxious to see how they respond."
As one of the team's veterans, Lancaster said she'll remind her younger teammates to stay calm and keep their cool. Already, she's seen them make tremendous strides and said in many ways they're no longer acting like freshmen.
La Salle's goals will be the same as the past three years, when it reached the semifinals and finished second, third, then finally first. The Lightning could also make history for its prestigious program by capping off the school's first undefeated season.
First half: 1, La Salle, Gillian Martin (Natalie Newman), 7:00; 2, Wahluke, Alondra Lozano, 10:00; 3, La Salle, Kendall Moore, 12:00; 4, La Salle, Moore, 13:00; 5, La Salle, Newman, 24:00; 6, La Salle, Martin, 36:00.
Second half: 7, La Salle, Martin, 60:00; 8, La Salle, Lily Lancaster (Grace Liscano), 65:00; 9, La Salle, Lily Sigler, 80:00.
Saves: Laly Gonzalez (W) 11; Hayley Stohr (LS) 1, Alexis Torres (LS) 1.