Megan Poulson laughed a brief laugh and it sounded good.
A new girls soccer season is underway and the University coach is both upbeat and happy to get back on the field. Just the way she’s excited about a new season every summer since she took over the program.
It’s a time to talk about potential and possibilities. New seasons come with clean slates and fresh faces.
For Poulson and the Titans, that’s a good thing. Last season was an emotional wringer. U-Hi finished the 2013-14 season one win shy of advancing to the state playoffs, losing to Southridge in the Tri-Cities, 2-0.
“It started to dawn on our players at the end of that game that the season was over and it hit them pretty hard,” Poulson said. “I don’t think the Southridge kids understood what it was all about because the tears started and the emotions came out.”
What it was all about was the kind of thing no high school coach has a plan for.
On Oct. 5, two University High students were killed in a car crash. One of the girls was McKenzie Mott, a starter on the soccer team, and the sudden loss was an emotional blow that rocked the Titans.
Poulson coaches players to lead by serving one another – an approach that creates a team that is stronger than its various parts. When tragedy struck, the team got through by doing what they’d been coached to do. They came together and supported one another.
The U-Hi community did the same, as did the Greater Spokane League. The Titans next game, a key league game at Mt. Spokane, was moved from Wednesday to Saturday to allow the Titans to begin to work through their grief.
Every coach in the league checked in with Poulson to let her know that they were thinking and praying for her and her team.
For their first home game, Rogers presented each player with a rose.
The game became the team’s oasis in the emotional desert. Between the lines, they were literally there for one – laughing together and encouraging one another. And while Kenzie wasn’t there physically, they held her close. They temporarily retired her No. 9 jersey, which they draped in a place of honor on the bench for each game.
“I’m not entirely sure how we got through it,” Poulson said. “We just took it one step at a time. It was hard. There were a lot of tears, but we got through it.”
Hemingway wrote, in “A Farewell to Arms”, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”
When the broken places are young hearts, it helps to have someone there to be a guide, to share the tears and pain, and to point the way to a safe refuge.
“I think we’ve made it through the grief,” Poulson said. “But we haven’t forgotten. One of the girls has already asked if I’m going to keep a spot on the roster for Kenzie.
“These kids are very close-knit and Kenzie was a very important person to them. They’re never going to forget what they’ve gone through.”
And they’re excited about the season that lies ahead. U-Hi returns to Class 4A, where they will challenge defending state champion Central Valley.
“We’re a program that always wants to challenge for the league title,” Poulson said. “Every year.”
Morgan Crosby was a first-team All-GSL selection as a sophomore midfielder a year ago, and senior teammates Rylee Rassier and Sydney Weiler both were second team selections.
And her peers voted Poulson the league’s coach of the year.
New seasons are good. Especially when you’re building on a good foundation. And when a team can work through an emotionally charged season the way the Titans did, their foundation is rock solid.
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