For 80 minutes Wednesday night, the University High girls soccer team was able to find refuge in the game.
There have been so many tears from heartbroken teammates and classmates since an Oct. 5 car crash that took the lives of U-Hi sophomores McKenzie Mott and Josie Freier. The loss has been especially hard for the soccer team, where Mott was a starter.
Wednesday night, the team played its first home game since the accident. The Rogers Pirates presented each Titan with a rose before kickoff, and the team had a brief ceremony to release balloons.
Once the game started, a semblance of normalcy returned for a team still grieving.
They cheered each other on, they yelled encouragement across the field to one another and they laughed with one another.
Along the way they beat the Pirates, 6-0. Six different Titans scored in the game.
“They’re getting a little stronger,” U-Hi coach Megan Poulson said, referring more to her team’s emotional health than being part of a three-way tie for first place in the Greater Spokane League.
“What really helped was getting a win in our first game back,” she said. “We beat Mt. Spokane in overtime Saturday. That was important for us.”
In that game, Rylie Rassier redirected a free kick from Sydney Wiler four minutes into overtime to earn the win in a game that had been postponed from Wednesday – just one of many tender-hearted gestures from around the GSL.
“I’ve heard from every other coach in the league, either emails or text messages,” Poulson said. “Just to let me know they’re thinking about us and praying for us.”
One only needs to look into Poulson’s eyes as she says this to understand how much that support means to her and her players.
The Titans fell behind Monday against Lewis and Clark before Sarah Melvin scored in the second half to force overtime, which U-Hi won in a shootout.
The Titans finish the regular season with a pair of home games: They host North Central on Wednesday and Shadle Park in the finale Friday.
The school struggled through an emotional week following the accident, beginning with a candlelight vigil Oct. 6 at the school.
The volleyball team was the first team to return to the court, playing host to Central Valley in a five-game thriller on Oct. 10.
The Bears returned to University on Oct. 11 for the Titans homecoming football game.
“The toughest part was that first game back,” said longtime U-Hi baseball coach Scott Sutherland, who doubles as public address announcer. “I had to announce Kenzie, and that turned into kind of an impromptu eulogy.”
The homecoming game was preceded by an emotional assembly in which students covered the gym floor with donated toys for the Marine Corps Toys for Tots campaign – the charity for which Josie Freier had volunteered.
In a poignant and emotional moment during the assembly, the soccer team temporarily retired Kenzie Mott’s No. 9 jersey.
At Wednesday’s game, her jersey was draped in a place of honor on the University bench – and it will remain there through the rest of the season.