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Saving grace — SK's senior goalkeeper key to Wolves' success

South Kitsap senior goalkeeper Bri Smallige, who has committed to play next year at Seattle University, has held 10 opponents scoreless this season. The Wolves play in the Class 4A West Central District Tournament at 1 p.m. Saturday against Skyview in Vancouver. - Kenny Gatlin photo
South Kitsap senior goalkeeper Bri Smallige, who has committed to play next year at Seattle University, has held 10 opponents scoreless this season. The Wolves play in the Class 4A West Central District Tournament at 1 p.m. Saturday against Skyview in Vancouver.
— image credit: Kenny Gatlin photo

Highlight CDs generally require countless hours where someone methodically selects an athlete’s best moments throughout the season.

But there is an exception.

South Kitsap senior goalkeeper Bri Smallige could have fit a year’s worth of snapshots from the Wolves’ Sept. 27 match at Bellarmine Prep.

Select a moment: Perhaps it was the consecutive shots in the 30th and 32nd minutes that were saved off Smallige’s fingertips. Or maybe it was the diving save off a deflection in the second half.

Those moments can be condensed into one reality: South does not win that match, 2-1, against a perennial league power without Smallige. After all, coach Julie Cain acknowledged afterward that her team was outshot “by quite a bit” against the Lions.

“The last 20 minutes of that game they pushed everyone up,” Cain said. “Bri was amazing.”

The Wolves, who enter Saturday’s West Central District Tournament as the No. 4 seed out of Class 4A Narrows and play Skyview at 1 p.m. at the Kiggins Bowl in Vancouver, feature plenty of talent. Junior forward Becca Schoales is viewed as a national-level recruit. And South might feature the deepest roster in the talent-laden 4A Narrows.

But in the playoffs — where goals rarely come in great frequency — Smallige might be the Wolves’ most important player.

“She’s really calm back there,” Cain said. “She’s kept us in all our big games this year.”

That partially relates to experience. Smallige began playing soccer at age 5. Six years later, she gave goalkeeper a try and never sought to move again.

“It’s really more of a mental thing,” Smallige said. “You have a slow game and then all of the sudden someone shoots the ball out of nowhere and you have to be ready for it. But I like having the pressure on me.”

Another factor is maturity. In addition to her work ethic, Cain praised Smallige’s communication skills with the backline and her ability to refocus after a goal.

Perhaps the ability to quickly adjust relates to Smallige’s experiences off the pitch. Two years ago, her mother, Ellen, had a cancerous brain tumor removed. She now is in remission.

It also helped cultivate Smallige’s interest in pursuing a career in nursing. She is involved with the award-winning athletic medicine program at South.

“I knew I wanted to make a difference after those doctors made a difference in my family’s life,” she said, adding that she hopes to work toward a nursing degree.

That will occur at Seattle University, where Smallige committed to play for the Redhawks’ women’s soccer program Friday.

“I’m really excited,” Smallige said. “It’s a really good school and environment.”

Cain, who played center-midfield at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, Calif., and also was an assistant coach at Seattle Pacific, thinks Smallige will excel in college.

“I think she’s going to be a great Division I keeper,” she said. “She’s quick, tall and can reach all four corners. She has great footwork.”

South will need it if it hopes to advance to state for the first time since 2009. The Wolves were in position to win 4A Narrows, but went just 2-2-1 in their final five contests.

But quality goalkeepers — ones with goals to win a state championship — never dwell on the past.

“I think all we can do is move on,” Smallige said. “We’re still going to the playoffs and I think everyone is happy about that.”

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