POULSBO — Two years ago, Mark Morris girls’ soccer went 2-13-1.
On Tuesday here at North Kitsap Stadium, the Monarchs not only went toe to toe with a perennial state participant but were the aggressor for much of the match.
But in a roller-coaster first round of the Class 2A State Tournament, Mark Morris fell 3-2 in a shootout to North Kitsap after a 2-2 draw in regulation. The Monarchs were seeking their first state win since 1988.
“It’s one of those emotional roller coasters. You see your team do really well and then you make a mistake and you pay for it,” MM coach Eric Maxey said. “It goes back and forth like that. My girls played their hearts out tonight. … I’m so proud of what these girls have done this year.”
Few people expected the Monarchs to be playing in November this season; even fewer expected them to be in last week’s district championship. But Maxey and a hard-working bunch of girls defied all that.
They exceeded expectations because of a relentless offseason. As the girls confidence grew in the Monarchs’ unusual style of play, the results came with it.
On Tuesday, the Monarchs’ Chloe Harris, just a sophomore, played the part of a maestro in the first half. She won the ball in the middle of the field and kickstarted MM attacks as she’s done all season.
“Pretty much every goal we’ve had this year, she’s had a part of,” Maxey said. “She controls the ball very well in the midfield and delivers the ball on a dime every time. She’s an elite players.”
Harris opened up Heaven Burr in the 19th minute, as the speedy forward broke away before being taken down in the box. Macie Balkan converted the penalty kick to give the Monarchs a 1-0 lead.
But just as quickly as it came, the lead disappeared. Less than a minute later, North Kitsap’s Abigail Ginn evened the score at 1-1.
There it would stay until the break, despite the Monarchs finding the net twice only to have it called back for offside.
North Kitsap controlled the pace more in the second half, as Charlotte Bond and the Vikings tested the unconventional backline of MM. Aunika Rodman made five saves, but more often, it was Presley McClung blocking shots and thwarting attacks.
The senior defender was a warrior and leader in the defense.
“She’s been that wall back there for us,” Maxey said. “She’s the one that’s in control. She’s not afraid of anything. She just plays fearless. … Because she’s who she is we can play the way we do.”
One of her shot blocks led to a quick counter attack on the other end for Burr, who was denied by a hard-charging Viking defender at the last possible second. Moments later, the Monarchs found the netting again.
Balkan sliced in a corner kick, Mary VandenBerg flicked it on and Madison Pond floated a header home to make it 2-1 in the 64th minute.
“Just when we score, it’s always a celebration,” McClung said. “You think to yourself, ‘I’m so proud to be a part of a team that can compete in practice but when we get in the game, we work really well as a team.’”
But again, the Vikings had an answer. In the 74th minute after Kitsap keeper Sophia Pixton denied VandenBerg a clear goal, the Vikings made four passes and went the length of the field in under 15 seconds before Isla Lester evened things at 2-2.
“It was tough to keep them contained,” McClung said. “They were very fast and you had to pull it back a little, but still play aggressive without getting fouls. You just had to clear it the best you can. We struggled with it, but we got better with it as the game went on. We played really hard.”
At the end of regulation, things were tied 2-2, and stayed the same through two five-minute overtime periods.
Rodman made an early save in the shootout, and one North Kitsap shot hit the crossbar and bounced away. But Pixton thrice denied Monarch shooters to end MM’s season at 12-7-1.
Five seniors graduate for MM, all of those players (Rodman, McClung, Grace Hedlund, Madison Pond and Danika Stacey) playing a defensive role.
“To see what they’ve done as leaders and turn this thing around,” Maxey said, “and keeping this team together has just been phenomenal. I can’t say enough about my senior leadership. They’re just amazing people.”