AUBURN — When asked about the impact of freshman Samiah Shell and sophomore Kiana Gutierrez on the Auburn Riverside girls soccer team, Ravens’ senior Stephanie Igwala lights up with a broad smile.
Playing alongside young talented forwards such as Shell and Gutierrez has been a real boost, making this season virtually all smiles.
Auburn Riverside has made history under the direction of 15th-year coach Paul Lewis. The Ravens won the school’s first two state matches after four winless state trips, and the Ravens are on the cusp of bigger memories as they’re just two wins away from a Class 4A state title.
“It’s so exciting to play with such young talent and both Kiana and Samiah just bring this youthful fun energy,” said Igwala, a senior forward, who will gladly wait to start the basketball season with a title shot in front of the Ravens. “Those girls give energy to the team, and they always pump us up. There’s always screaming before games.
“This year we just bonded more as a team. We just have a natural connection.”
AR (19-1-1) set school records for most victories in a season and most goals scored (96).
The Ravens face KingCo 4A champion Inglemoor (14-1-3) in the Class 4A state semifinals Friday at 6 p.m. at Puyallup’s Sparks Stadium. But the team likely have to do so without Shell, who leads the Ravens with 17 goals and 27 assists during her record freshman season.
Shell is scheduled to fly out Friday morning to attend the U.S. Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program (ODP) Girls Thanksgiving Interregional Event for the 2005 West Region team in Boca Raton, Fla.
“If I’m not there, I know that they’ll know I’m cheering them on,” said Shell, who was attempting to reschedule her early Friday morning flight, but it was unlikely to get it changed. “I’m the youngest one on the team and I look up to all of them. I know they’ll do good. Everyone else on the team is very talented.”
Shell’s 61 points and 27 assists were single-season records for the school, and the assists record is already the school’s career mark. Gutierrez stacked up a single-season, school-best 20 goals and 10 assists, Igwala added 15 goals and six assists and junior Grace Anderson contributed five goals and 13 assists.
Still, Shell’s impact was huge.
“There are times where she could just be selfish (and score), and I love how she’s not,” Igwala said. “She’s so selfless, and she cares about others. That’s one thing you can see on and off the field with her. She makes sure we all share the glory.”
The Ravens have outscored foes 96-10. The team can play grind-it-out defensive games or wide-open, high-scoring games. AR faces a defensive-minded Inglemoor team, which has outscored opponents 35-13, behind the leadership of junior defender Julianna Barker.
After Saturday’s final, Barker plans to fly out and join Shell at the same ODP event with her 2002-03 West Region squad, according the Vikings coach Kent Nelke.
Riverside senior goalkeeper Bella Reckling registered 13 shutouts, 3.8 saves per match and a 0.476 goals-against average with senior defender Addie Saarenas keeping things organized at the back.
The Ravens began the season knowing they would be without a pair of top midfielders — all-league selection Olivia Boulet and Sierra Parshall. Both missed the season with concussion issues.
The arrival of Shell was the difference maker to go with Gutierrez.
“The team draws a lot of confidence from those two, but the stability and urgency comes from the seniors,” said Lewis, who last guided the Ravens to state in 2015. “I feel like there are much bigger things in Samiah’s future.”
Lewis and the team started the preseason with a bonding team activity — a 7.3-mile hike on Mount Rainier.
“I didn’t know what to expect, it being my first camping trip,” Shell said. “There were a lot of complaints getting up there, but it was all worth it in the end. It was memorable and the view was beautiful up there.”
Lewis says his team followed his “Always Climbing” season mantra and met every challenge.
“This team is always just hungry for the next thing,” Lewis said. “They have the mindset of not fearing what challenge is in front of them. It’s like no goal is too high.”