Heidi Melville didn’t know what to expect five years ago when she applied for a job at St. George’s School, which needed an assistant soccer coach.
A boys soccer coach, as it turned out.
“I absolutely had no idea,” recalled Melville, who took a chance, took the job and has since taken the Dragons to a three-year record of 49-6-2 as head coach and a trio of Final Four appearances in the state 1B/2B playoffs.
St. George’s finished third two years ago in her first season as head coach, second last year, and has an obvious goal this year. The Dragons face Bear Creek of Bellevue in a Friday semifinal in Sumner; the winner facing Waitsburg-Prescott or Grace Academy the following day for the championship.
“Winning state, that’s the goal, for sure,” said Melville, whose life has been weaved around the game for two decades. She prepped at nearby Northwest Christian, but the school offered only boys soccer at the time, so Melville played at the club and Olympic Development level. The promise of a college scholarship was seemingly crushed by a “devastating” ACL injury, but her talent was recognized by local soccer icon Cor van der Meer, then head coach at the Community Colleges of Spokane.
Two years later Melville, a defender, earned a full ride at Montana and in 1999 was the Big Sky Conference Most Valuable Player.
“Those moments defined me in ways only athletics can,” the 36-year-old Melville said of the highs and the lows of her playing career. After marrying Shawn, she later worked as a substitute teacher and coached at the high school and junior high level in Hamilton, Mont.
Back in Spokane and with two children, she worked with her father as an environmental tech subcontractor before getting back in the game. She coached for a year at Rogers, and continued to play recreationally. In 2008, a referee encouraged her to apply for the position at St. George’s.
But if Melville didn’t know what she was getting into, the St. George’s players knew exactly what they were getting: a strong soccer coach who happened to be a woman.
“We don’t see anything different in her being a woman,” said Peter Worrall, a four-year starter at goalkeeper. “She played college soccer, and we all respect her for that.”
She replaced former coach Cam Preston in 2011, conciding with her third pregnancy. “And I was a woman to boot, but they never even batted an eye, except for the lobbying of naming the baby after them,” Melville said.
“Luckily, the baby was a girl, and I didn’t have to choose between them.”
This year’s success is driven by the players, who are pretty driven themselves.
“Sometimes I have to make sure they’re not too hard on themselves,” said Melville, who managed to reload after losing some key players from last year’s state-runnerup team, which helped her win state Coach of the Year honors.
The talent is undeniable – five players were part of the state championship basketball team last year – but the results have been spectacular: an 18-0-1 record, with 104 goals scored and just eight given up.
Seven players are All-Northeast B League first-team selections, including Worrall, forwards Nik Avakyan and Erik Muelheims; midfielders Nathan Furbeyre, Corey Spalding and Stow Miller; and defender Matt Arlt.
Worrall leads the state in shutouts with 12, while Muelheims has 35 goals in only 14 matches after recovering from an injury.
Avakyan and Michael Hamilton each have 12 goals. Furbeyre has 12 assists and Avakyan 11, but last week Muelheims returned the favor, setting up Avakyan three times in a 4-1 quarterfinal win over Tacoma Baptist.
The squad includes one girl, midfielder Alyssa Forsyth, a junior midfielder who’s seen action throughout the season. “She’s a real firecracker,” Melville said while making a point about high school sports.
“I guess what I love so much is being able to give them some lifelong memories, good memories, like the ones I have,” Melville said.