The Lancers moved up from Class 3A to 4A and away from the Seamount League and they have responded well to the better competition as they are unbeaten in the NPSL.

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Michelle Beattie is liking the tougher challenges of each match for her Kennedy Catholic girls soccer team in the Class 4A North Puget Sound League (NPSL).

The Lancers’ second-year coach is also liking her squad’s results in 2016.

The bigger tests game in, game out are making Kennedy Catholic better as they push for a postseason berth. The move from the defunct Class 3A/2A Seamount League to the NPSL has given the Lancers a more balanced schedule, requiring a higher level of play each game day.

That is bringing out the best on most occasions for Kennedy, who are unbeaten in their new league.

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“I had one year [coaching] with complete understanding of the frustration of playing in the Seamount League,” said Beattie, a 2008 graduate of Central Washington University and a former Wildcats’ captain. “The competition was kind of inconsistent. We had some really challenging games and then some far less challenging games, so the intensity was different. That mentality was hard to keep up.

“Transitioning into the NPSL and going up to 4A has been quite the opposite. It’s a been a really good, fun battle for the girls. There’s no truly easy games, even our least competitive game is much more challenging than in the Seamount League.”

The 10th-ranked Lancers (6-1-5, 5-0-5 NPSL Cascade Division) have yet to lose in the NPSL. They are in the playoff hunt in third place with 20 points, behind NPSL 4A Cascade Division leaders Kentridge (8-1-1, 25 points) and Tahoma (7-3-0, 21 points).

“Playing in a tougher league, it makes it easier for my coaching staff to have that constant push,” Beattie said. “So everybody has to be present all of the time and know that it’s not going to be a walk in the park. You can’t let off the gas ever.”

Kennedy is riding an 11-match unbeaten streak –- 10 in league –- after opening the season with a 2-0 nonleague loss to Holy Names on Sept. 6.

“The girls, as a whole, just continue to step up and rise above,” Beattie said. “They are really good at playing to the ability of the other teams whomever that is. When we play Kentridge and Tahoma, who are in the top three [in the division], we step up.

“The struggle is we kind of drop down to the playing style of our opponent. Where we should have wins, we have some ties. When we feel like we earned a win in tough games, we have a tie.”

The Lancers played NPSL leader Kentridge to a 0-0 tie on the road on Sept. 22 and face the fifth-ranked Chargers (8-1-2) again in a home match on Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila.

Kennedy Catholic beat Tahoma 1-0 on Sept. 29 and the rematch is Oct. 25 at Starfire.

The only component lacking for JFK has been consistent offensive firepower. The Lancers have outscored opponents 15-6 in all matches and just 12-4 in NPSL play, but that margin has been just enough to keep them in the division race with four matches to be played.

Junior forward Bailey Hall leads Kennedy’s opportunistic offensive attack with seven goals and three assists. Freshman midfielder Natalie DeGagne provides an outside threat and has three goals and an assist.

But the defense of the Lancers has kept them in every match this season.

Junior goalkeeper Jaclyn Seifert has meshed well with defenders freshman Hanna Scandiffio, juniors Lauren Shoemaker and Claire Varden and senior captain Maddy Sparby. The Lancers have posted seven shutouts, thanks to that cohesion on the back line.

“Jaclyn has come up with some dynamite saves for us,” Beattie said. “One of the biggest changes for the girls this year is the shots coming at us in NPSL are far more accurate and have a lot more pace behind them. In the past years, it was an easier save.

“But the saves she is making are game-winning saves, or game-tying saves, I should say, since that’s now our specialty.”

Beattie, a 2004 graduate of Bishop Blanchet High School, took over last fall after longtime coach Doug Stamnes stepped down after 32 seasons, 21 league titles and 480 victories.

Beattie said she was a “utility player” when at Central, having played defensive midfielder and defender positions.

“I’m more of a defensive coach,” she said. “It doesn’t really matter who we are playing. It’s just more my mentality [as a coach].”

The Lancers and Beattie are doing well with their first looks of teams in their new league. They haven’t given up more than one goal against an NPSL foe so far this season.

“The girls were used to just winning the ball easily and going forward,” Beattie said of playing in the Seamount. “Going with the more challenging teams, it’s not been a huge change for me, but maybe for the girls it has been. Now, it’s a lot harder to gain possession of the ball.

“The constant battle and no-quit mentality has been a little harder for them. They know they have to get that gritty mentality, and know there is no room for error.”

Scandiffio has given the Lancers some toughness at the back with her aggressive style.

“We have a really solid back line and we’ve had people who have stepped up, and one is a freshman [Scandiffio],” Beattie said. “She stepped in as an outside back this year. She’s that gritty player. She’s a multi-sport athlete and soccer is not her first sport.

“But she knows how to compete and knows how to not quit. That intensity has been pretty contagious on that back line to defend as a unit. They have done a really good job.”

Around the Area
Two teams from Washington state — Seattle Prep at No. 10 and Issaquah at No. 14 — remained in the Top 25 of the national rankings from National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA).

Three teams from Washington state are in the NSCAA’s Region VI Top-15 poll, topped by Seattle Prep (No. 2), Issaquah (No. 3) and Skyline (No. 10).

Three teams from Washington state –- Issaquah (No. 6), Seattle Prep (No. 17) and Skyline (No. 20) -– are in the Fall FAB 50 High School Girls Soccer Rankings from Oct. 11 put out by :

State rankings

Here are The Seattle Times 2016 rankings for Class 4A, 3A and 2A for the week of Oct. 17, 2016:

Class 4A
1, Issaquah (10-0-2)
2, Skyline (9-0-3)
3, Camas (11-0-1)
4, Mead (Spokane) (12-1-1)
5, Kentridge (8-1-2)
6, Beamer (10-1-1)
7, Puyallup (11-0-2)
8, Kamiak (9-1-2)
9, West Valley (Yakima) (11-2-0)
10, Kennedy Catholic (6-1-5)
On the bubble: 9, Lake Stevens (9-2-1), Central Valley (Spokane) (8-3-0), Jefferson (6-4-0), Kentwood (5-3-4), Tahoma (9-3-0), Woodinville (8-4-1), Eastlake (7-4-1), Wenatchee (9-4-0), Davis (Yakima) (8-5-0), Gonzaga Prep (Spokane) (9-4-0), Auburn Riverside (8-3-1), Jackson (7-2-3), Skyview (Vancouver) (5-3-2), Union (Vancouver) (8-5-0), Hanford (10-3-0), Olympia (7-2-3), Ferris (Spokane) (7-3-0).

Class 3A
1, Seattle Prep (14-0-0)
2, Gig Harbor (12-0-0)
3, Bellevue (10-0-2)
4, Southridge (Kennewick) (11-2-0)
5, Squalicum (10-1-2)
6, Lakeside (11-2-1)
7, Stadium (8-1-2)
8, Marysville-Getchell (9-2-1)
9, Ferndale (10-2-1)
10, Arlington (10-2-1)
On the bubble: Edmonds-Woodway (8-2-4), Bishop Blanchet (6-4-3), Kamiakin (Kennewick) (8-5-0), Bethel (6-1-3), Stanwood (8-4-1), Roosevelt (7-5-0), Garfield (7-1-2), Holy Names (8-6-0), Lake Washington (9-2-1), Wilson (Tacoma) (9-2-2), Central Kitsap (7-2-2), Yelm (8-3-1), Kelso (7-2-3), Ballard (9-4-0), Shorecrest (8-2-3), Redmond (5-4-3), Prairie (7-3-1), Bonney Lake (8-1-3).

Class 2A
1, Fife (12-0-0)
2, Tumwater (12-1-0)
3, Olympic (12-1-0)
4, Black Hills (10-2-0)
5, Ridgefield (11-2-1)
6, Sehome (10-3-0)
7, White River (9-1-2)
8, East Valley (Spokane) (10-2-0)
9, Ellensburg (8-5-1)
10, Othello (10-3-1)
On the bubble: Burlington (8-3-2), Cheney (10-4-0), Cedarcrest (8-3-3), Prosser (9-4-1), Selah (10-3-1), Hockinson (9-4-0), R.A. Long (7-5-0), Liberty (Issaquah) (7-2-3), Sequim (8-3-0), North Kitsap (7-4-1), Franklin Pierce (6-5-1), Columbia River (8-3-1), Ephrata (8-4-0).