By Sara Hollar, Olympia High School Intern to ThurstonTalk
Last fall, the entire Olympia High School girl’s soccer team held their breath as four separate games ended in shoot-outs to decide their fate in the Class 4A state tournament. The players worked hard to put penalty kicks into the other team’s goal but they also had a secret weapon – goalkeeper Sophie Kabel.
Kabel blocked enough goals in all four of these winner-advance shootouts to lead the Olympia Bears to third place in state, their best record since 1995. Now a junior, Kabel has a lot to live up to as the OHS Bears face another season with new, heightened expectations but she is ready for the pressure as she consistently proves herself both on and off the pitch.
Kabel’s career as a goalkeeper started by accident. In elementary school, she was a field player on current OHS soccer coach Tessa Effland’s team. Although she jokes that she scored a few goals as a striker, Kabel wasn’t a fan of all the running as field player. That problem was solved when she was inadvertently stuck in the goal.
“When I was seven or eight, I wanted to quit soccer. Then the goalkeeper for our team broke her collarbone. I had to fill in for her and I haven’t stopped since. That was the deciding factor to stick it out,” Kabel explains.
Ever since those early days, Kabel’s cheering section has been very important to her. Her biggest fans will forever be her parents but Kabel says all of her friends, both on and off her team, are extremely supportive as well. Kabel also recognizes her coaches’ role in her success as they push her to be play her best.
She attributes a lot of her accomplishments to Kelley Bendixen. Bendixen is the highly acclaimed goalkeeper coach for Kabel’s club team Washington Premier, where she’s trained since fifth grade.
Even with a lot of support and great training, goalkeeping is an immense burden. According to Kabel, the key is to stay confident and not get overwhelmed.
“As a goalkeeper, you’re the last line of defense and that’s already pressuring enough. Having a one on one with a striker and knowing when to go out and get it, that’s really scary. Those decisions decide if they score or you can save it. But your adrenaline just takes over and you just go for it. It usually turns out well if you don’t hesitate,” Kabel shares.
It’s that skillful decision-making that earned Kabel MVP of the OHS soccer team and First Team All-Narrows League goalkeeper. Kabel is humbled to be recognized for her efforts but it’s a lot of pressure in the 2014 season. No one on the OHS team anticipated making it so far in the state tournament last yea,r but they all enjoyed how their hard work paid off.
“It’s much different when you’re an underdog and you go that far and now everyone expects so much from you. It’s almost more pressure now because we have a lot to lose, unlike last year when we had nothing to lose really,” comments Kabel.
For now, Kabel just focuses on winning individual games and having fun with her OHS teammates. She says they work extremely hard in games and at practice but they love each other unconditionally. The girls also challenge Kabel to be her best possible self and a leader on the team. To her, saving a goal is like scoring as a goalkeeper and she loves contributing to the Bear’s success.
Kabel knows all too well that sacrifices also come with victories. Until sophomore year, she was heavily involved with both soccer and softball. It was tough for her to quit softball and leave the team but she ultimately saw her future in soccer. Still, Kabel recommends playing at least two sports for as long as possible to become a well-rounded athlete. And of course balancing school and sports is always tough, but Kabel manages to stay positive.
“You’re just going to have those nights where you don’t think you can do anything anymore but tomorrow’s another day,” she says.
Even with these setbacks, Kabel has an immense love of the game. She’s unsure about her college plans right now although she is currently going through the college recruiting processing and hoping to play at the collegiate level. Kabel enjoys anthropology and history and wants to travel. She can see herself both working in a museum and digging in the dirt. In the end, she knows that the skills she’s learned from soccer will help her as she navigates jobs and life.
“Soccer has taught me communication. The closer everyone gets to my goal, the more I have to direct my teammates. Once they get into my space I have to control what goes on and it’s usually my fault if I can’t. Now I know what to say and that helps a lot.”
However this season works out for the OHS Bears and wherever soccer ends up taking her, Sophie Kabel will treasure her time in the goal box and with her team.
“The way you come back from maybe a loss or a goal really defines how you are as a person and a goalkeeper, but on a team, even if you lose, it’s not just on you,” explains Kabel. “Everyone has each other’s backs and everyone picks each other up. It’s the best feeling in the world when your team, working together, gets third in state. It’s like giving a gift.”