When Henry Gallanger took over as head coach of the Centralia High School girls’ soccer team he inherited a program that had been toothless for quite some time, winning just one match in the two previous seasons combined before his arrival.
Gallanger knew turning things around would not happen instantaneously. It would take some time. He placed the window at three years.
Welcome to year three.
Behind a dedicated senior class, a powerful offense – paced by goal scoring-dynamo sophomore Alayna Miller – and a lot of hard work this past offseason, the Tigers find themselves tagged with a label they haven’t worn for quite some time – playoff contender.
“It takes time, but we’ve come a long ways since I took over three years ago,” Gallanger said. “Each year has been a progressive improvement as far as what we are looking for with their mental mentality and how they carry themselves on the field.”
Five seniors – Mia Martin, Sarah Williams, Jade Coady, Courtney Leifer-Carlson and Alyssa Stanfield – were part of the program which won just one match, a 2-0 victory over Fort Vancouver late in the season – during their freshmen year of 2014.
Things were even rougher the prior season when the Tigers went winless, going 0-11 and scoring just two combined goals all year.
“I think (coach Gallanger) came in with a mindset to turn this program around and he’s doing that,” Martin said. “This team, the last few years, really works well together and we want to turn things around just as much as he does.”
As sophomores, Martin and her classmates helped Centralia improve dramatically, increasing their win total to 7, but failing to advance to the district playoffs after losing to Aberdeen, 5-2, in a play-in game.
Last season, the team continued to trend upward with the injection of a strong freshmen class, led by Miller, a second-team all-2A Evergreen Conference pick at forward in 2016 after scoring a nine goals, but still failed to once again make the postseason.
Those days seem long gone as Centralia now finds itself in the hunt for one of the EvCo’s four district playoff berths.
“This group of seniors is the last group with any type of memory of what took place a long time ago,” Gallanger said. “So they’re hungry for that. You talk to Sarah and Mia, and the other seniors, they’re really the ones that see the difference and bring along the younger girls. They don’t want to see it go back to the way it used to be.”
Improvements were seen immediately as the Tigers opened the season by defeating W.F. West, 5-4, in the annual Rotary Cup match.
“That’s been the most memorable moment for me so far this season, winning the cup back in our first game,” said Miller, who scored two goals in the win during Centralia’s first match-up this season with the Bearcats. “I can’t remember the last time we won that. The defense has improved a ton and we’re making really good progress with our midfield too.”
In previous years, summer workouts between the players was nonexistent. That wasn’t the case this year as Martin and Williams joined the other seniors in organizing conditioning sessions and other player training workouts.
“We just have a lot more opportunities and I think it comes from how hard we worked in the offseason as a team,” said Anastasia Ulrigg, a midfielder and one of two juniors on the roster. “A lot of us played together as a team this summer. The chemistry is just so much better than what it was, and I think we’ve scored a lot of goals because of it.”
Miller has scored a team-high 15 goals through the first 12 games this season. She is one of seven sophomores on the team – the largest class of any in the program.
“Last year was a growing year,” Gallanger said. “We started a lot of freshmen and now they’re sophomores and they’re being asked to grow up fast.”
The Tigers close out the season with a trio of away games, playing at league leaders Tumwater (October 17) and Black Hills (October 19) before their regular season finale against rival W.F. West (October 24).
“I think this year we’ve just worked harder together and we know that we can make it to districts. This is the goal,” Williams said. “That would be the greatest thing ever to end our senior year doing that.”
Miller, however, has something that would be even better for the program.
“I want to make it to state. I think we can make it to state,” Miller said. “I think we can go further than what we all think we can do.”