From winless to state champions. That’s the path the Montesano Lightning girls’ soccer team has traveled over the last four years.
The Lightning, a member of the Montesano Youth Soccer Club, put the finishing touches on an undefeated season by winning the Washington Youth Soccer Rec Cup Girls U13 championship with a convincing 4-1 victory over Duvall Thunderbolts FC at the Starfire Sports Complex in Seattle. The title capped a 13-0-1 record for the team, which went 0-8 a mere three seasons ago.
Lightning players include Anneliese Boyle, Emmagin Salazar, Gabrielle Harris, Hannah Bruland, Hayden Prentice, Izabel Cope, Kaylee Lundgren, Kylee Fairbairn, Landree Dohrmann, Madison Campbell, Mercedes Morrill, Paige Lisherness, Rylie Waltee and Sophi Kupka.
“When the season started in June, we asked the players to identify the three goals they wanted to accomplish this year,” said Lightning coach Erik Kupka. “The first goal was to finish first in our division, second was to go to the state tournament and the third goal was to win state. They just continued to raise the bar a little higher all season. What they’ve done really is remarkable.”
The Montesano Lightning went 7-0-1 during the regular season to secure the top seed out of their division, which consists of teams from Grays Harbor, Thurston, Mason and Lewis Counties.
Spearheaded by goal keeper Kylee Fairbairn, the Lightning surrendered just one goal during the regular season. Their defense was equally impressive in the postseason while playing against the state’s top talent as they gave up just two more goals over the next six playoff games.
“This team actually started practicing a month and a half before the season started,” Kupka said. “They practiced three days a week. We had practice at 8:00 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning and we had everyone out there but a few. No one wanted to be out there. It was pouring down rain, but they know it takes hard work to be successful. That’s really our basic philosophy for this team. We want them to apply that thinking to everything they do for their rest of their lives, not just soccer, but also at school and with their grades and later in life – everything.”
The Lightning, who knocked off Gig Harbor, 2-0, in the quarterfinals, advanced to the championship match by knocking off previously undefeated KE Sweet and Sassy of Kelso, 3-0, in the semifinals.
Rylie Waltee scored twice before the intermission and Izabel Cope added a third goal in the victory over the Kelso squad, which had only given up one goal all season up to that point.
“The girls were actually more nervous playing in the quarterfinals at Rottle Field,” Kupka said. “They were playing in front of their home crowd and we had such a great show of support from the community I think that caused some nervousness (in the state quarterfinals) for them. That lasted about the first 15 minutes then they went back to playing the way they know how. I thought they were going to be a little in awe of playing at Starfire in the semis. They’re playing on the same field that the (Seattle) Sounders play on, but they knew what they were there for and went right to work.”
In the state finals, the Lightning jumped out to a 3-1 lead, getting first-half goals from Mercedes Morrill, Cope and Madison Campbell. Cope added her second goal midway through the second half to produce the game’s final tally.
Kupka was aided on the sidelines by assistant coaches Aaron Waltee and Chuck Fairbairn.
“On paper, my name is down as the head coach, but it’s really a co-coaching effort,” said Kupka, whose team never trailed during any point of the season. “We have great teamwork on the field with the players but also within the coaching staff. We all know our strengths and weaknesses and complement each other as coaches. This was a complete team effort from the players to the coaches to the parents.”
The Lightning’s championship highlighted a strong showing for Montesano Youth Soccer as they were one of three teams from the club to advance to at least the state quarterfinals. Joining the Montesano Lightning were the GU15 Bandits, who lost in the state semifinals to eventual champion Lakewood/Steilacoom, and the U12 Kicks, who fell in the state quarterfinals. All three teams were District 7 champions.
The Bandits consist of players Ellie Barbo, Sierra Birdsall, Sierra Bradshaw, Natalie Clements, Cassadie Golding, Madison Hopkins, Ellie Jones, Kalie Klinger, Riley Knodel, Zoee Lisherness, Madelynn Machowek, Jaiden Morrison, Mattie Morrison, Taylor Stenback, Skyler Taylor, Kathryn Thomas and Hannah Tupper and coaches Todd Lindley, Steve Tupper, Chris Hutchings and Jeff Barbo.
The Kicks include players Anabelle Estrada, Reghann Fairbairn, Sierra Fuquay, Naudia Jay, Ruby Jones, Kallie Knutson, Alyssa Maldonado, Mikayla Stanfield, Riley Timmons and Elizabeth York and coaches Julie Stanfield and Chuck Fairbairn.