Monday, November 30, 2020

Seniors key to Glacier's success

Daily Inter Lake | October 12, 2020 12:00 AM

When the Glacier Wolfpack boys soccer team steps out on the pitch for their Western AA first round playoff game at Legends Stadium, it’ll almost be like coming full circle.


The group of five seniors leading the Wolfpack this year were freshmen three years ago when the team made it to the state final and lost to Hellgate. Glacier was the No. 2 seed that year too, but No. 1 Hellgate won 4-2.

None of that matters, coach Ryan Billiett says, not even the fact that Glacier (9-3-2) has already beaten first-round opponent Flathead (2-11-1) twice this season.

“Not thinking about anything in the past, absolutely not thinking about what’s ahead of us,” he said.

One benefit this current group of seniors have is the experience of being at a state final and learning what it takes to get there.

“It's just kind of crazy, we started there as a couple of freshmen but we saw what needed to happen to get to that point to push the team to the championship, and that's just kind of pushed us to get better and better every year,” senior defensive midfielder Diego Mendoza said.

Mendoza didn’t get to play in the 2017 final, but he and several junior varsity players were asked to be team managers during the playoff run. They were mentored by the upperclassmen and now get to continue that process as seniors.

“It’s weird being the “top dog” now of the team, but it's awesome being able to take care and be the mom of the team for all the younger guys and get on their butts about getting stronger, staying healthy, staying on a good track, not only for soccer but for life in general,” Mendoza said. “Coach has always taught us, we don't want to just be good soccer players, we want to be good people too. Coach has been really a good mentor for us and we’ve just kind of helped pass that on.”

“It’s definitely weird how that’s similar but it feels completely different being on the other side,” midfielder Blake Marlow added.

Billiett points out that the seniors on his team got to watch the team evolve to improve and learn from that.

“We’ve had to adjust and we’re trying to put all those pieces together at the right time so that we put ourselves in the best opportunity to play and perform at our highest potential,” he said.

“We’re really just trying to put our full 80-minute complete game together when it matters most.”

Girls’ coach Brenden Byrd would echo that sentiment about his own team. The Glacier (10-4) girls team won the Western AA division last season and is a No. 2 seed this year. They drew Helena Capital (1-11-1) as their first round opponent.

“We’ve been a competitive team but these last two years we’ve turned into kind of a stronger, kind of a powerhouse school,” Byrd said. “Yeah, we’ve had some losses, but the girls have found ways to fight back through it. It’s been great to see them succeed.”

One player key to that success is Madison Becker, second in Western AA scoring with 11 goals and 32 points and a team captain.

She’s been in the program all four years.

“I learned that the more hard work we put in over the years, and dedication, the better we got,” Becker said. “So I think that’s similar to our freshman year too because we all had dedication that year and it went pretty good.”

Kenzie Williams is the younger sister of Cadie Williams, the 2017-18 Gatorade Montana Soccer player of the year. Cadie was a senior during Kenzie’s freshman year.

“I think as a group of seniors we’re really close,” Williams said. ”So that helps us motivate the younger girls more. We’re close with all of the younger girls this year on an off the field. It’s not just in the game of soccer. I’ve created a bond with each and everyone of them, it kind of reflects how the seniors were my freshman year especially because my sister was on the team.”

Added Emily Cleveland: “It started from the underclassmen all the way to the seniors and being able to play under seniors that were incredible my freshman year was really inspirational. Being in those roles right now is pretty cool.”

Like Billiett, Byrd isn’t thinking about the future or the past too much either.

“I don't think about that, but I do think we have the tools to go far,” he said. “Our job tomorrow is to watch them play the game of soccer that they know how to play.”

The Glacier girls take on Helena Capital at 3 p.m. today, and the boys play at 5 p.m. Both games will be at Legends Stadium.