What rebuilding year? Summit still a girls soccer powerhouse

Three months ago, Jamie Brock was certain that this would be a rebuilding year for girls soccer at Summit High.

The bulk of the Storm’s offense in recent years had graduated after last season’s loss in the Class 5A semifinals. This year’s group, Brock recalls, was not as technically gifted as past Summit squads. In fact, from the season’s outset, the Storm went back to the basics in practices, working more on first touches and ball-control skills than on the more tactical aspects of the game.

Yet during Summit’s season opener, a 3-0 nonconference win at North Medford on Aug. 26, Brock realized that this year — a rebuilding year — could feature a stronger Storm team than anticipated.

Now, as it prepares for Saturday’s 5A state championship match against No. 1-seeded North Eugene at Hillsboro Stadium, No. 2 Summit (15-2 overall) has proved that it is once again the team to beat in the race for the state title.

“The amount of joy that I see in this group is pretty awesome,” says Brock, now in her 13th season as the Storm coach.

“I would say it’s more than what I’ve seen in previous groups. I’d say they’re excited just to create that opportunity for themselves.”

Since 2010, Summit has been a mainstay on the big stage. The Storm have played in five state championship matches, winning all five, including their last in 2015. While Summit has not been nearly as potent offensively (the team’s 54 goals this season are 39 fewer than last season’s 93), the Storm boast a stalwart defense — as evidenced by a string of seven straight shutouts heading into Saturday’s match — and championship experience.

Seven players on this season’s squad played in the Storm’s state championship win two years ago, including three who started, and several of them have accepted position changes to help lead Summit back to the state final.

Maggi McElrath, for example, has moved from forward to midfielder, while Michaela Gorman transitioned from midfielder to defense. Along with Parker Campbell, Quin Fraley, Gabbie Brocker, Julia Hager and Piper Flannery, McElrath and Gorman provide Summit with championship savvy — and they have already begun prepping their younger teammates.

While the Storm have appeared in five of the past seven 5A state championship games, North Eugene (15-1) is making its finals debut.

Champions of the Midwestern League, the Highlanders are third in 5A this season with 58 goals scored while allowing just seven, which ranks second in the classification. North Eugene has not lost since its season opener, a 3-0 setback at Crescent Valley, which Summit defeated 2-0 in Tuesday’s semifinals. The Highlanders head into the championship final riding a 15-game winning streak, including Tuesday’s 2-1 home win over No. 4 Sandy.

“Because it’s uncharted territory, they were super excited but a little bit numb,” North Eugene coach Brandy Wormdahl says of her players’ reactions to the semifinal win. “You talk about things and you kind of dream about them and you set goals, and to have it play out the way it has, it’s just been pretty overwhelming for them.”

North Eugene boasts speed with midfielders Jordan Wormdahl and Sophie Cleland, and it has a tendency to push the pace. Yet the Highlanders, Brandy Wormdahl says, cannot be “pigeonholed” into one style of play, other than “these kids just know how to win.”

“The one thing I’m impressed about this group is no matter how people have come at us, we’ve figured out a way to adjust,” says the 22nd-year North Eugene coach. “We’ve been in games where teams want to slow it down and possess and wait for things to open up. The kids can play that style. We’ve had teams that have pressed us and kind of crammed it down our throat, and we’ve been able to adjust and figure out ways to win.”

Wormdahl says that while the Highlanders have never before played in the championship, that could be an advantage for the top seed in 5A.

“It helps in the fact that I don’t think they’re going to put a huge amount of pressure on themselves to win,” Wormdahl says. “I think they’re going to relax and play their game and play like they have nothing to lose.”

Summit, on the other hand, is a program brimming with success. And despite heading into the 2017 season with a rebuilding mindset, the Storm boast depth at each position, and that could carry Summit to its sixth state title.

“One thing that’s played in our strength, we’re good all around the field,” Brock says. “We were excellent in pockets over the past few years and good in the other places, but all these girls know, ‘Hey, we’re all pulling our weight.’ And clearly it’s worked out.

“They put that lofty goal out there (to reach the state final) but they realized they had to do quite a bit of work to get there. Obviously it’s paid off.”