In the end, one bad bounce and a talented, determined Crosspoint team thwarted the Dragons at the gate.
“It’s hard to be a graceful loser, you know what I mean?” laughed St. George’s soccer coach Heidi Melville. “But the boys pulled it off. They were heartbroken, but they absolutely showed poise and grace. “
The Dragons had rolled into the final four, looking for their third consecutive title. After surviving a brutal semifinal match with archrival Preston, the boys threw everything but the mascot at Crosspoint before giving way, 2-0 on Nov. 18.
“They did everything asked of them, and they didn’t make any excuses,” Melville said. “I was so proud.”
St. George’s School hides deep in the woods northwest of Spokane, tucked up against the Little Spokane River. “It’s like a secret little garden back here,” said Melville. “It’s kind of a magical place.”
Melville, a Northwest Christian graduate, feels at home in the tight little community. “I went to a B school,” she said. “I have that B league in my blood.”
Former Dragons coach Cam Preston brought Melville to St. George’s as an assistant in 2007, discovering her in an adult recreational league game he was working as a referee. “It was so random,” said Melville, “but when those opportunities come up and you say yes, great things happen.”
When Preston left after the 2010 season, the team left no doubt who their preferred replacement was. “The kids came up to me and said, ‘You’re gonna apply, right?’ ” laughed Melville. “When I applied as the head coach, a lot of the kids were sitting outside the office while I was interviewing.”
Her gender never came up. “It’s never been an issue at all,” she said. “For whatever reason, they’ve just embraced me.”
Melville’s teams have been wildly successful. “In seven years, she’s been in the final four six times, and the quarterfinals once,” said Ryan Peplinski, the school’s athletic director. “Heidi’s a heck of a coach, and she runs a great program.”
St. George’s is not an athletic mill, built to churn out pituitary cases for major college coaches to drool over.
“We don’t recruit for athletics,” Melville said. “It’s academics that gets people here.”
The school’s athletic program has a no-cut policy: Everyone who turns out gets to play.
Melville believes her boys have one natural advantage above all others.
“One of our core values,” she said, “is ‘best effort’ in (every) area of life.
“So as a coach … you don’t have to convince them that hard work is going to get them somewhere. They already know.”
The St. George’s women, defending their own state championship, also reached the finals before losing 1-0 to Life Christian Academy. Coach Mark Rickard said the team may have left it all on the field in their thrilling, shootout semifinal win over previously undefeated Brewster, but the team just didn’t have enough left in the tank.
“We battled,” Rickard said. “We just couldn’t get something to materialize.”
The women’s program, now in its fourth year, fought through its first year without enough high school players to fill the team. “We took our lumps,” said Rickard.
The girls turned it around quickly, though. “First year out they go 1-15,” Peplinski said. “Two years later, they won a state championship.”
Both programs have bright futures. “The coaches are dedicated and the parents are all-in,” Peplinski said. “I think we are really healthy.”
Melville is going to miss her three graduating co-captains.
“All three of them have very different leadership styles,” Melville said.
Mitchell Ward, the reigning State B Player of the Year, is likely to repeat. “He was our engine,” said Melville. “He just makes people better around him.”
Noah Halliburton-Link, she said, was the team’s backbone.
“We had to travel to Trout Lake, which is about six hours away,” Melville said. “We played in a wet, snowy, kind of yucky field, and … we were not playing very inspired.
“(Noah) just started stepping up, and winning every ball,” she said. “You could just see it lift people up around him.”
Conner Cremers is awaiting word on his application to MIT. “(He is) the smartest human being I’ve ever met,” Melville said.
Melville loves her job.
“In a scary, dark time for our world,” she said, “I get to come to work and get filled up by them, and reaffirmed.
“Our world’s going to be OK,” she said. “We’ve got kids like this.”