Brieanna Dell has as good a reason as any to play her favorite sport.
“Soccer saved my life. I was the second kid in Washington state to have Kawasaki Disease. They told me I might not live through it,” the junior forward for Tenino High School girls team said. “My parents let me play sports and when I went to have more tests it turned out my heart was working better and better.”
Kawasaki Disease is a rare childhood heart ailment that strikes fewer than 20,000 American kids annually. Dell’s case was even more rare since it most often strikes children of Asian descent.
Unchecked it can lead to dire consequences – aneurysms, heart inflammation and valve damage. Fortunately, Dell got timely medical treatment and believes she helped her heart recover by heading back to the pitch.
“When I get out there and play hard, I get really excited and the blood starts to flow through my body,” she said.
Second-year coach Kevin Schultz, also a long-time club coach, hasn’t been surprised by what Dell has accomplished.
“I’ve known Bri since she was 10, 11 years old,” he said. “She puts in the time, she’s a really good athlete. She’s also really smart, she knows how to put herself in positions to create opportunities.”
The Beavers are reaping the benefits of Dell’s dedication. She’s scored 29 goals as Tenino jumped out to a 9-0-1 start heading into Tuesday night’s 1A Evergreen Conference showdown with visiting Montesano on the Blacktop. Both teams are 4-0 in league.
Dell scored 20 goals as a freshman and 25 more last season when the 12-5-1 Beavers reached the 1A state tournament but were knocked out in the first round by Klahowya.
Morgan Miner also started playing at age three, with Dell. Now a sophomore, she’s Tenino’s assist leader with 13 so far.
“Bri creates paths for me to get her the ball and she can get through defenders fast to make hard shots to the corners,” Miner said.
Despite Dell’s gaudy scoring numbers, she’s hardly a one-player show. Twelve other Beavers have found the net this season, nine of them more than once.
“We’ve talked about wanting to build a system where we possess the ball more. We’ve worked really hard on becoming better passers, having better technical skills,” Schultz said. “We’ve got a lot of good athletes. It’s a matter of learning to play smooth, technical soccer.”
Sophomore midfielders Grace Vestal and Megan Letts often make the “hockey assist,” the pass that leads to the pass to the goal scorer. Often Miner makes that final pass.
“Morgan has really good speed and she’s really good with the ball at her feet dribbling through tight spaces,” said Schultz.
“She’s really good at looking for the through ball. When she’s on the wing she can do those cutbacks,” added Dell. “It’s not just for me. She gets the ball to everyone. Or she can run up and score herself.”
Though the Beavers will start as many as nine sophomores, echoes from older players, last season’s senior leaders Laura Kershaw, Kaylee Schow and Charli Letts, still guide the team.
“The seniors we had last year really bought into getting better and they passed that along to our younger group. Some of them have younger siblings on the team now,” Schultz said.
Nonetheless, making it through the first 10 matches unbeaten surprised Schultz. He thought the Beavers would be top three in the 1A EvCo, make it to districts and perhaps state. But he didn’t expect the level of play Tenino has evidenced thus far.
“Our girls have exceeded the expectations I had,” he said. “They don’t get hung up on what’s coming in the future or what happened in the past. They just want to play their best game each time. They’ve risen to the occasion.”
Miner has played for years with much of the team on the Twin Cities Union club team and sees their year-round togetherness as one of the reasons.
“Our chemistry is really good together. We’ve been playing together so long we know what each other’s strengths are,” she said. “Even when we were little, we had lots of fun together as a team. Soccer bonds are different from ordinary friendship bonds.”