As it went about beating Portland Community College on Oct. 5, the Clark College women’s soccer team played as a well-connected unit. The visiting Panthers rarely had control of the ball as the Penguins won 8-0 to remain unbeaten in league play.
That connection was no accident.
Coach Sean Janson has made it a priority to feature local players — 13 players from Clark County are on the squad this season — a focus that is being rewarded as the Penguins chase the first division title in program history.
“It’s really cool. We’re just a really close tight-knit group. We all have a really strong chemistry on our team,” said Emily Heaton, a sophomore defender and Columbia River High School graduate. “We all just have a lot of fun. We goof off when we want to, but we also know when to get serious.”
Wednesday the challenge gets serious as Clark hosts Lane Community College from Eugene, a 2 p.m. showdown between the two unbeaten teams in the South Division of the Northwest Athletic Conference.
This clash is the first of two between the Penguins and the Titans, who will meet again on Oct. 29 at Eugene to close the regular season.
A season ago, Lane won the division by one point over Clark. The 2016 roster includes 13 sophomores who were part of the 2015 team that finished second in the division and lost in the first playoff round. Heaton and defender Hope Taylor from Skyview were all-conference selections as freshmen.
“We’re athletic, we’re competitive and we’re goal-oriented,” Janson said. “We are very hyper-focused. We lost our focus a few games last year and that’s where the ties came into play. This year there has been no lapse in focus. We know every game counts.”
A 3-2 win on Saturday at Southwestern Oregon improved Clark to 8-0-0 in division play. The Penguins have 11 wins and two losses overall — one against Cerritos College, one of the top community college soccer programs in California. They have outscored their opponents 51-12.
Heaton credits the depth at every position for this team’s success.
“Everyone is so talented and we know how to work together with that talent,” she said. “It’s not individuals going onto the field. We all work together as one unit and that’s what really helps us be successful.”
Janson, who is also the executive director of the Washington Timbers FC youth soccer club, said there is plenty of soccer talent in Southwest Washington to build a consistently competitive program.
“We have smart kids in our program. It’s all about saving money,” Janson said “If you can exclude housing costs you’re going to pay exponentially less coming to Clark than at any other junior college.”
Clark’s Molly Joyce leads the NWAC with 20 goals. A native of Hawaii who attended high school in Brookings, Ore., Joyce has family in the area and contacted Janson about playing for the Penguins.
Playing alongside friends and for a local college makes the experience special, according to Camas graduate Riley Allison, a sophomore who has six goals and six assists.
“Here, it’s not just Clark College. It’s like the whole city of Vancouver,” Allison said. “We’ll have people who don’t even have a kid on the team who come watch our games. It’s pretty cool how big of a support system we have just from being from Vancouver and Camas and Ridgefield and the surrounding cities.”
That support system adds motivation for the team.
“Clark women’s soccer, we’ve never won our division. So that’s our goal. That’s the fire in our eyes,” Allison said. “And we don’t want to let our coach down. He’s put in hours and hours of work to get us this far so we can’t let him down.”
Local players for the Clark Women’s soccer team:
Sarah Kaufman, Fr. GK (Ridgefield); Mariah Marti, So. GK, (Hudson’s Bay); Riley Smetzler, Fr. D (Ridgefield); Courtney Zumstein, So. D (Ridgefield), Eleanor Schmid, So., M (Washougal), Madison Ochoa, Fr. F (Ridgefield), Rylee McDonald, Fr. M (Camas); Abby Bohn So. D (Battle Ground); Emily Heaton, So. D (Columbia River); Hope Taylor, So. D (Skyview); Maddison Maffeo, Fr. D (CAM/Battle Ground); Riley Allison, So. F (Camas); Jasmine Pritchett, So. F (Columbia River).