CASHMERE — Cashmere standout Tianna Helm doesn’t know how to put it, exactly, but this year’s girls soccer squad is markedly different from the 2011 state runner-up team.
“The simplest way I can give it to you is fight and heart,” said Helm, who leads the Bulldogs with 20 goals this season. “It’s a little more than last year.”
The junior attacking midfielder played an important role on last year’s Cashmere team, which lost in double overtime in the Class 1A state finals.
Then, the Bulldogs were just happy to be in contention. Helm, who led the team in scoring last year as a sophomore, called the experience “surreal” and said her team was complacent in the finals.
“I think we all got caught up in the glory of it,” she said. “This year, we’re ready to fight for it.”
The battle-hardened Bulldogs (15-3 overall) didn’t run through the opposition like it did during its undefeated stint in 2011, but their maturity and experience in big-game situations should provide a big boost in the state semifinals when they face the Seattle Christian Warriors (19-0 overall) at 4 p.m. Friday at Shoreline Stadium.
Cashmere has five returning starters — four juniors and one sophomore — who embody the focused, all-business mentality driving the team forward.
Junior Lauren Johnson said her team won’t be overwhelmed by the turf field at Shoreline Stadium, or the Warriors’ spotless record.
“I feel that we are a lot more relaxed and prepared because being there last year, you get a feel for it,” said Johnson, who tallied two scores in Cashmere’s 3-1 win over Cascade last week in the 1A state quarterfinals.
Coach Dennis Tronson has noticed the difference too. He said the confidence will play a big factor in the Bulldogs’ state run, but added that his team has a more tangible ace up its sleeve as well.
Tronson used 17 players last weekend in the quarterfinals and hopes to get similar production from his bench for the remainder of the tournament. The depth is something he didn’t have in 2011, where he was limited to using just 11 players on his roster. He would have liked to draw more from his backups to give his starters a rest, but was nervous it would disrupt his team’s flow.
That’s not an issue this time around.
“This year, I’m totally confident in the girls I put in,” he said.
But the nucleus of experience and the added depth doesn’t make the Bulldogs unbeatable. Far from it.
Seattle Christian’s defense — anchored by a sophomore goalkeeper who recorded 17 shutouts playing for the Crossfire, a premier soccer club — has given up three goals all season.
Cashmere has done everything in its power to prepare for its return to the semifinals. Its cut the grass on its practice field extra short to simulate the fast play of the turf, its put its faith in younger players off the bench and relied on the leadership of the core of experienced returners to champion the team forward.
In the end, though, tangibles can take you only so far. The 2011 Bulldogs’ undefeated run ended with a heartbreaking double-overtime loss. Helm knows firsthand that sometimes it’s better to rely on grit.
“Soccer is just a game of luck sometimes, and I truly believe the team with the most heart and the most fight will overcome it,” she said. “It doesn’t matter that they’re undefeated. We want to be the ones that crush the streak.”