Midway through an early-afternoon practice during the first week of training, Inglemoor High girls’ soccer coach Kent Nelke had seen enough of the heat.
With 30 minutes left before the end of practice, the girls were huddled in the weight room preparing for the upcoming season in a different way – preventative measures to avoid injury.
“We’re just trying to keep them healthy,” said Nelke, who lost two prospective starters to injuries before tryouts began. “Those long-term injuries, most of them don’t happen on our watch, but they’re part of the game. Kids play year round, and you get overuse injuries — it’s just about when they’re going to pop up.”
Injuries to options at centerback and center midfield, in conjunction with lower-than-expected turnout forced Nelke to cut the JV-C team. And with only four seniors, the Vikings will be a young varsity squad this fall.
“Our incoming freshmen and sophomore classes are very talented, but what they’re not used to is the grind of the high school season,” Nelke said. “Once we start playing, it’s 16 games in eight weeks. Tuesday and Thursday. It grinds down the legs and grinds down the body.”
Inglemoor will lean on the returning experienced players and hope the new pieces are able to quickly fit in alongside the upperclassmen. Nelke plans to move from a 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1 for defensive considerations while the team adapts to new faces in the back line.
Junior forward Kelsy Berge, an all-conference honorable mention last season, anchors the attack along with attacking midfielder Sadie Sheller, also a junior. Nelke said the two outside backs, returning juniors Maria Matlick and Kylie Russell, should also contribute offensively.
Defensively, though, it’s about replacing all-KingCo first-team centerback Alicia Barker, who has already started in four of the first five games for the University of Illinois.
“We have a big gap at centerback,” Matlick said. “Our best centerback left last year, and now we have a sophomore filling in. That will be a big key part.”
Barker’s runningmate, Sam Bell, returns for her senior season as the other centerback. Cat Quintana is expected to play a holding midfield role, with senior Saya Brown in goal.
“We’ll have three or four sophomores or freshmen starting,” Nelke said. “We’ve split the teams, and now the competition is on. Go win that job.”
Last season’s squad went unbeaten through the first eight matches with five wins and three draws. In those eight games, Inglemoor allowed two goals.
During the final five games of the regular season, Inglemoor went 2-3 with nine goals allowed before beating Mount Si and Eastlake in the KingCo tournament and losing to Camas in a bi-district playoff game.
“I think we want to win the ‘Pop’ again, beating Bothell and Woodinville,” said Matlick of the team’s goals. “Getting to state is a big one. Last year we were close and it was heartbreaking when we didn’t get in.”
Inglemoor is scheduled to kick off the season at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 6 at Juanita High School. The Vikings’ home opener is set for 1 p.m. on Sept. 10 at Pop Keeney Stadium.