In the locker room at Western Washington University there is a poster board covered with sticky notes that outline the women’s soccer team’s goals.
Before the season started, explained Kentlake High graduate Katherine Miccile, the board went up and was covered with sticky notes.
“A lot of it was ‘Get out of the Sweet 16,’” Miccile said. “It’s been awesome seeing everything fall into place.”
A year ago the Vikings women’s soccer team made it to the round of 16 teams in the NCAA Division II tournament for the first time in WWU history, but fell in an overtime loss to University of California San Diego, Miccile explained.
This season, Western went a step further, making it to the Final Four.
“It’s the first time in our school history that has happened so it’s a really big deal,” Miccile said in a phone interview Dec. 4 before the semi-final match against defending national champion West Florida. “We were thinking, ‘Get past the Sweet 16.’ It’s not a settling feeling. We still have to go further. When we won (in the Sweet 16) everybody made new goals.”
Miccile, a junior defender, loves playing soccer and going to Western. She would enjoy it even if the team weren’t among the best in Division II.
“It’s been really positive and really beneficial to me,” Miccile said. “When I first started being recruited, I was thinking I wanted to go (Division I) and be at the biggest school possible. I settled in at Western and it was the perfect fit for me. You have a smaller team of girls and you really get to know everybody. They were really welcoming and I felt like I was wanted.”
Miccile noted the community at Western is pretty wonderful, too, and the smaller school environment means the team gets plenty of support from their classmates. Other students, she said, will wish her luck in between classes and some students even flew out to Georgia for the final four match.
Success on the field, however, certainly has been satisfying as well. Miccile explained that the balance of the team was one of the key factors of how far the Vikings have come since she started playing at Western in the fall of 2011.
“I honestly think it’s our whole entire field because in our whole conference we have the most goals scored and only eight goals against,” Miccile said. “We have seven seniors and four or five juniors so we have a really experienced team. Last year we were first in the nation for defense … this year we were in the top 10. We have the two top scorers in the GNAC so that’s helpful, too. Our team is really, really balanced, so it’s hard to compete with our team.”
When Miccile was a freshman, there wasn’t a conference tournament, instead the winner of the GNAC got an automatic bid to the tournament. Last year the Vikings won the league and the conference tournament.
“We were so close (to the Final Four) my sophomore year, which just made it better,” Miccile said. “When we lost we just knew that we were just going to fight so much harder… to go further in the tournament. There’s been a lot of passion and intensity. Everybody’s been really focused.”
That focus pushed Western Washington into overtime against West Florida Dec. 5 in the semi-final but the ninth-ranked Vikings lost 2-1 to the third-ranked Argonauts thanks to a pair of goals including the game winner from Sashana Campbell.
Kristin Maris, a senior from Issaquah, scored a tying goal with just 36 seconds left for Western to send the match into extra time.
The Vikings finished the season with a 20-2-1 record, according to the WWU Athletic Department website.
Miccile said that it is easy to get lost in the tournament but she felt like the team dynamics helped them keep their perspective.
She is also grateful for the support not just of the community at Western but her friends and family, especially her parents and twin brother Andrew, who is a junior at the University of Washington.
“My parents came to every single game,” Miccile said. “I see them twice a week during the fall. Last year, when we went to the Sweet 16 they traveled to California and Colorado. I’ve been getting text messages (from former Kentlake coaches), saying ‘Good luck. We’ll be watching in you.’ Even people from my high school graduating class have been texting me. It’s been really awesome.”
And even though it was hard at first to go to different universities, Miccile said, she and her brother have adjusted.
“He was between UW, Gonzaga and even Western,” Miccile said. “He got this big envelope from UW and he said, ‘I have to go.’ He comes to a lot of the games with my parents. He is a big support system. He texts me all the time. He is one of my best friends.”
Andrew and her dad, Paul, also trade off giving her pep talks.
Miccile said her father sends her video clips from inspirational sports movies and quotes them frequently.
She loves it, though, and even her teammates ask if her parents are coming to the games.
The Vikings women’s soccer program has become an extension of the Miccile family in a sense.
And while she may be away from Kentlake, Miccile has not forgotten the lessons she learned there.
“Just being able to play with a team,” Miccile said. “I know for high school you had to put up with a lot of different people, a lot of different attitudes … but they’re friends also. I think it really helped figure out how to interact with teammates, I guess, and play with different types of competition. Kentlake was a place that had a lot of community-oriented people, everybody loved being a Falcon.”
Before the semi-final match, Miccile said, the Vikings seemed to be clicking.
She was enjoying the experience and she knew there was much to take away from it, win or lose.
“It’s a big stepping stone,” Miccile said. “I think it will help for next year. If it doesn’t turn out the way we want … we’ll just have another goal for our board. This has been the most beneficial and awesome year.”
And the sticky notes on that poster board in the locker room next fall will likely say, ‘Get to the national championship game,’ and Miccile will be ready to help make it happen.