By MATT MASSEY
Special to The Seattle Times
It’s not about the start, but more about the finish.
For starters, someone must wear the labels of favorites in high school girls soccer teams in the state of Washington.
Those who were close last year will need slightly better luck and another year of experience for a dream finish.
Both the Tahoma Bears and Eastside Catholic Crusaders fit the bill and open with targets on their backs in Class 4A and 3A, respectively. Both squads were two wins away from state titles last season and both begin the 2012 season at No. 1 with Tahoma leading the way in 4A and Eastside Catholic in 3A.
In Class 2A, Sumner reached the state quarterfinals in 2011 and with 10 starters back appear the team to beat and open at No. 1 in first-ever rankings for 2A.
Tahoma finished third in 4A in 2011 and returns six starters, including state 4A Most Valuable Player Brie Hooks and South Puget Sound League (SPSL) North Division first-team selection and second-team all-state pick Mackenzie Henke.
The Bears were 15-4-2 last season and having been knocking on the door the last two years for their first state title since 2005. They were second in 2010, beating Skyline in the semifinals and falling to SPSL North rival Kentwood 1-0 in shootout in the 4A final.
With the services of Hooks, who was away at Olympic Development Program training in Florida, Tahoma fell to eventual 4A champion, Skyline, 2-0, in the semifinals last season.
Hooks had nine goals and 26 assists in 2011 and fuels the Bears’ offense. Henke contributed 15 goals and three assists.
“If Hooks is give any space, she can create a lot of things,” said Skyline coach Don Braman, whose team is 1-1 against Tahoma in the playoffs in 2010 and 2011. “Right now our main focus is getting through our league, and their focus should be their league, too. SPSL is a tough one. Tahoma works really hard and is a team that creates quality chances and doesn’t miss those chances.”
Braman’s Spartans retain six starters from their 4A state-title team, but loses one of the state’s top goalkeepers in Tina Vargas (University of Denver), their center back and central midfielder.
“Those are some tough shoes to fill,” Braman said of losing Vargas. “We’re getting that sorted out, and we have some strong candidates for that position.
“Our biggest this understanding who we want to be and how our teammates play. We have some great pieces. We just have to see how they fit together.”
In 3A, Eastside Catholic will have a tough time emerging as the clear-cut choice from the ultra-tough Metro League, but are well equipped. Both Seattle Prep, who won back-to-back 3A state crowns in 2010 and ’11, and Holy Names figure to offer plenty of resistance.
The Crusaders will rely heavily on the talents of senior goalkeeper Nemo Thomas, who went 11-4-3 and recorded nine shutouts after missing eight matches with ankle tendinitis. EC took third in 3A state, losing to Liberty of Issaquah 1-0 in the semis and beating a young Meadowdale squad 1-0 for third.
Throw Interlake, last year’s Class 2A state champion, into the 3A ranks and it’s going to be very tough for any team to dominate.
The Saints lost arguably their best player in midfielder Isabel Farrell (9 goals, 13 assists), who starts as a freshman for the University of Washington. But Interlake retains junior Emma Bergstrom, who supplied 30 goals and three assists as a sophomore, and Farrell’s sister, Jaimee, steps in the playmaking role.
Interlake retains nine starters, including their entire back line on defense.
The Saints’ departure from 2A leaves the door open for Sumner, who was downed 1-0 by Archbishop Murphy in the 2A state quarterfinals last fall. The Spartans retain much of their talent from a 16-2-0 team, one that captured the SPSL 2A with 68-8 advantage in goals scored and 11 shutouts.
Sumner will be led by senior forward Kaylie Rozell, who had 19 goals and six assists in 2011, and Gonzaga-bound defender Sarah Carter.
Rozell was second team 2A all-state selection as a junior and was named SPSL 2A first-team pick in 2010 (MVP) and 2011. Carter earned first-team league honors 2009, 2010 and 2011.
“We are strong again this year after a state-quarterfinal run and not losing many seniors,” Sumner coach Robi Turley said.
In a match of last year’s state champions, 4A titlist Skyline hosts 3A champ Seattle Prep tonight (Tuesday, Sept. 4) at 7:30 p.m.
Here are The Seattle Times 2012 rankings for Class 4A, 3A and 2A for Week 1 (2011 record in parentheses):
1. Tahoma (15-4-2)
2. Gig Harbor (15-5-1)
3. Bellarmine Prep (17-3-1)
4. Issaquah (9-5-2)
5. Skyline (Sammamish) (18-0-2)
6. Kentridge (13-3-3)
7. Jackson (Mill Creek) (12-5-2)
8. South Kitsap (12-4-2)
9. Gonzaga Prep (Spokane) (15-3-0)
10. Kentwood (17-2-1)
On the bubble: Auburn Riverside, Camas, Redmond, Mead (Spokane), Skyview (Vancouver), Kentlake, Edmonds-Woodway, Beamer (Federal Way), Lake Stevens, Snohomish.
1. Eastside Catholic (13-7-5)
2. Seattle Prep (20-0-2)
3. Holy Names (10-3-4)
4. Interlake (17-3-1)
5. Southridge (Kennewick) (18-1-0)
6. Liberty (Issaquah) (18-2-0)
7. Shorecrest (15-5-1)
8. Kennedy (8-5-3)
9. Meadowdale (18-5-0)
10. Auburn Mountainview (12-5-1)
On the bubble: Lakeside, Bishop Blanchet, Everett, Mount Spokane, Bonney Lake, Capital, Columbia River, Kamiakin.
1. Sumner (16-2-0)
2. West Valley (Yakima) (13-4-0)
3. Cedarcrest (Duvall) (20-4-0)
4. East Valley (Spokane) (16-7-0)
5. Sehome (19-2-0)
6. Archbishop Murphy (15-6-0)
7. Fife (15-4-0)
8. Pullman (16-6-0)
9. Hockinson (14-3-0)
10. Klahowya (12-3-2)
On the bubble: Lakewood, Squalicum. Lake Washington