The 2017 high school soccer season was unforgettable for all the right reasons for the Mercer Island community.
The Islanders varsity girls soccer team registered a 4-1 victory against the Stadium Tigers in the Class 3A state title game on Nov. 18, 2017 at Sparks Stadium in Puyallup. It was the first state championship in the history of the high school girls soccer program.
Mercer Island girls soccer head coach James Valles, who will be in his second season leading the Islanders this fall, reminisces about last year’s title as often as possible.
“Lets just say I try to work state championship into all of my conversations, even in my day job I try to work that in there,” Valles said with a chuckle.
The Islanders return all but two of their players from the 2017 varsity roster. Key players Jessie Stenberg and Kendall Riley graduated this past June. Valles said his squad is focused on winning back-to-back state crowns.
“I think the pressure is on. They want to repeat. They don’t want to sit or rest on their laurels. If you look at our schedule, we play Skyline, Issaquah, Newport and Eastlake (nonleague games). The only way you can get better is to challenge yourself every week. When state (tournament) comes around, hopefully we’ll be ready,” Valles said.
Valles marveled about the talent level of his roster before conducting an evening practice session on Aug. 24.
“It is pretty incredible I would have to say. This isn’t normal, this is far from normal, I will take it,” Valles said with a smile. “We have four senior captains this year and they’ve really stepped up and have done captains’ kind of work. We have 20 incoming freshmen to the program and they’ve done a really great job of making everybody feel part of the program.”
The Islanders’ four team captains are Emily Arron, Jackie Stenberg, Gretchen Blohm and Abby Berman. The Islanders’ state championship in November of 2017 wasn’t just for the soccer program, it was for the entire Mercer Island community and all of the players who came before them.
“Since it was our first one (girls state soccer championship), it was pretty special. We had great attendance at our games. That is what is great about Mercer Island is that the community gives us such great support. It really meant something to people on the island. You are playing for more than yourself,” Valles said of his team.