Cascade FC preparing girls soccer players for the next level

Players from Cascade FC’s G05 Green (white) and Crossfire FC’s (red) girls’ soccer teams compete against each other in game action this past weekend on Snoqualmie Ridge. Cascade FC, the “select” arm of the Snoqualmie Valley Youth Soccer Association, is working hard to prepare their girls’ players for the high school level of soccer. (Rhett Workman/SVSJ)

The Eastside is home to some very competitive high school girls’ soccer, and the Valley’s high schools are very much part of that. Both Mount Si and Cedarcrest High Schools’ programs are among the best in the region, and while the results on the field have been mixed – the Red Wolves making huge waves this fall in their first season in the Wesco Conference and making the playoffs while the Wildcats have not made the playoffs in their first two seasons under head coach Sophie Rockow – the programs are both growing into elite powerhouses thanks in no small measure to local youth soccer. While the two predominant organizations on the Eastside, Redmond-based Crossfire and Preston-based Eastside FC, have had a significant role to play, not just for both schools but for their leagues as a whole, there is a third, locally-based, club that is establishing itself as a big player as well in youth girls’ soccer in our area.

Cascade FC has for many years been the “select” level operation run through the Valley’s local youth soccer organization, Snoqualmie Valley Youth Soccer Association, and has produced many players for both high schools’ teams. But a more aggressive emphasis on preparing their players for the high school level of play not only could help the organization become more competitive for top players with the other two major clubs locally, but it could also help both high school teams establish sustained success that could enable both programs to become the best in the state at the high school level.

The organization fields a number of “select” squads for girls from the U-9 up to the U-18 level. Among those is their 2005 Green U14 team, which features a number of local middle school students, many of whom will be donning that Mount Si uniform in the next couple of seasons when they reach high school. And if this past Saturday’s match which finished their season was any indication, these girls are being well-prepared for what lies ahead.

And that’s what’s important. Making sure the players are all set for the high school level of soccer. The team’s coach, Tariq Walcott, is focused on making sure each player is developed the right way. “My coaching philosophy is just straight down to individual development of the players technically, tactically, mentally, socially, how they interact in a team, all the skills that comes with playing soccer in terms of having the ball at their feet, thinking about the game, and how to interact on a team,” he said. Walcott, who coaches a number of teams within Cascade, both on the boys and girls’ sides, understands what the players need to have to be successful at that next level.

“I know at that next level what it takes is being technically sound on the ball, confident on the ball, having that thought process in the game, making conscious decisions, and then of course being physically fit,” the coach said. “We do strength training, cardiovascular training, speed training, and we allow our players to play a majority of games, at least half, so they’re getting a full run out of what it would be like to be on the field 10, 15 minutes at a time, 20 minutes at a high intensity.”

A player from Cascade FC’s G05 Green girls’ soccer team prepares to take a corner kick in their game this past weekend on Snoqualmie Ridge. Cascade is focusing on individualized player development in its efforts to get players ready to succeed in both Mount Si and Cedarcrest High School’s girls’ soccer programs. (Rhett Workman/SVSJ)

Midfielder/forward Olivia Shanks believes this approach can help her gain success at the next level. “They make you a well-rounded player, not just a soccer player and one of those parts is conditioning,” Shanks said. “It really helps bring us to the next level which I think will really give us the one-up on the people that we’re competing against for our next level (of) soccer.” Teammate Lily Hahn added, “We get to practice a lot on how to be intense and how to keep going and pushing ourselves to keep going.”

Positive reinforcement and constructive criticism are also a part of helping players succeed. Madelyn Forman, a midfielder on the team, believes that’s very much the case with her coach. “I think coach (Walcott) really helps you, because he praises you for the things you do well,” Forman said. “You want to do well for him and just want to keep going for the team.” Goalie Calista Wilson, who proved to be very busy in the second half of this past Saturday’s game against Crossfire, won by the visitors from Redmond 1-0, making a number of quality saves, also believes Walcott’s positive reinforcement and constructive criticism has helped her improve.

“I think his criticism is very helpful,” Wilson said. “I feel like he pushes me to do things that I might not even be comfortable with. Playing with my feet, I’m not very comfortable with when I’m playing in goal, but he pushes me and he makes me feel like I can. He tells me that I am a good player and he makes me feel like a good player.”

“Our biggest thing is just to focus on each individual player and their confidence level, their technical ability, and just their thought process in the game,” Walcott said. “It is tough to compete with those bigger clubs but we really believe that our holistic method, our very individualized method and then the way we build around a player to the team brings them to the next level.”

According to Walcott, the organization has become more aggressive about player development, reforming the structure in which players are developed during the course of the season. “Our director of coaching, George Taylor, he’s really revamped the entire club the way we run our training sessions, the detail we get from coaching evaluations that he gives to us, the detail in the curriculum that he sets out for the age groups, the detail in how we want the teams to play,” he said. “The way we plan our entire season from the start of summer to the end of fall there’s three-week blocks we focus on things for three weeks at a time and engrain a style of play throughout an entire year.”

Another aspect of developing good players is making sure the players themselves develop good work habits. Walcott’s assistant this season is local coach Craig Phelan, and he is a parent of a player on the team – Isabel, a defender. Phelan is big on that aspect of things. “Work ethic. For me that’s big. I like seeing the girls work hard at practice. They can fail, but I want to see them put 100% in. “I want to see them attempt,” he said. “Put the work in, because that’s going to build a better player.” Phelan added praise for Walcott. “The coaching is just dynamite. Tariq’s done a great job with building the kids up to get them ready for that next level,” he said.

Cascade plays within the North Puget Sound League, and the quality of the competition has also helped prepare the kids for what they’ll expect at the next level. The SVSJ was at this past Saturday’s game gathering interviews for this story, and what we witnessed was a flow of play that to some degree resembled what the girls will likely see in Kingco play in a couple of years time – physical and intense. “The quality’s really good. There’s a lot of tough teams to play against. They have good players, and it’s a physical league as well, so it forces us to step up to the plate and be more physical,” Walcott said. “When they go into high school as freshmen, they want to make the varsity team, but it’s tough because you’re competing against bigger physical players, so I think that’s helped.”

Marieke Wybenga is also a midfielder on the team, but unlike many of her teammates, she attends private school – Bellevue Christian – and likely will be part of their high school team in the coming years. BCS is a 1A school that plays in the Nisqually League, which is a far cry from Kingco 4A, but playing this quality of talent week in and week out also has helped her.

“I think this team and my coach has really pushed me to be confident with my skills,” Wybenga said. “Before I didn’t feel as confident dribbling the ball and taking players on one on one.” After a full season under her belt, though, that’s changing, according to the eighth-grader. “I see myself more as somebody who can take players one on one and even score goals,” she said.

Walcott has a message for local families who want to get their kids involved in soccer about what their locally-based club can do for them. “Cascade is (a) very family-oriented, very individualized club. We focus on every single player, we focus on every single family and what we can do to get the best out of every player,” he said. “Can we improve every single player’s experience in soccer, knowledge of soccer, skills in soccer and have that transform them moving forward wherever they end up going?” Based on what we saw on Saturday with this team, and what we’ll be featuring for you here in a couple of weeks when we do our feature on coach Trevor Morris’ Cascade Green, the answer is a resounding yes.

If you want more information on Cascade FC, we have a link for you at right in our news links to their home page.

Rhett Workman

About Rhett Workman

Rhett Workman is the editor of the Snoqualmie Valley Sports Journal. Workman is a veteran sports journalist, having covered Snoqualmie Valley sports for nearly a decade with the Snoqualmie Valley Record newspaper before starting up the SVSJ. Workman's coverage has earned the support and respect of Valley coaches, players, parents and fans, and the SVSJ continues the standard of coverage that Workman brought to the Valley Record.
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