Bellingham trio plays role in Vikings' success

WWUVIKINGSDOTCOM Claire Morgan
WWUVIKINGSDOTCOM
Claire Morgan
WWUVIKINGSDOTCOM

Nov. 19, 2008

BELLINGHAM, Wash. -

SOMER BREEZE - THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

When college soccer coaches were recruiting Claire Morgan out of Bellingham High School three years ago, she narrowed down her choices to two - Western Washington University and Seattle Pacific University.

When SPU said it decided to go with a different soccer player than Morgan, she decided to join the Vikings' women's soccer program.

Morgan never lost contact with the fourth-ranked Falcons, since both programs are in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference. The 12th-ranked Vikings already have played SPU twice this season and have an important third date scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 20.

The two GNAC rivals will meet in the third round of the NCAA Division II Women's Soccer Tournament at 9 a.m. in Kirksville, Mo.

"I think it will be a good chance for us to show that we belong in the Sweet 16," Morgan said in a phone interview. "I think a lot of people still are kind of doubters about our team, and it's a great opportunity to prove them wrong."

When Morgan joined Western, she was reunited with former Red Raiders teammate, Stephanie Janigo. But the duo's history extends further than their prep careers. Morgan and Janigo have been playing soccer together since they were 6-year-olds.

"It's really fun," Janigo said. "It's good because we know how each other plays. It's fun to have that connection."

And then there were three.

Morgan redshirted before fellow Bellingham High graduate Molly Shannon joined Janigo and Morgan on the Western roster last season.

"It helps to know at least two people coming onto a new team," Shannon said, "to help form relationships with the new teammates."

Western coach Travis Connell had coached all three players on the Whatcom FC Rangers and was very familiar with them by the time he recruited them.

"I was really excited when all three decided to come," Connell said. "Not only are they excellent soccer players, they also played together a long time. They're that much more effective playing together."

And effective they've been for Western, especially this season.

Morgan has started at forward in all 21 games for the Vikings and leads the team in assists (7), points (23) and shots (75). Morgan and Shannon, also a forward, both have eight goals each. Shannon has started in 13 games, but has seen action in all 21. After being hindered with an injury her freshman season, the sophomore has also recorded two assists and is fourth on the team with 18 points.

"Now that she's healthy, she's really contributed a lot to the team," Connell said. "I expect that to continue and increase throughout her career."

Janigo, a midfielder, has started in 14 of 19 games she's played this season.

The trio has played a vital role in the the Vikings' success this season, helping them to a GNAC title and a No. 1 seed in the Far West Regional, where they had a first round bye. Western advanced to the third round with a 1-0 win over Cal-State Dominguez on Sunday, Nov. 16.

Earlier this season Western edged SPU 1-0 on Sept. 20, but on Oct. 16, the two finished with a 1-1 draw. Both teams are very familiar with each other entering Thursday's matchup.

"You know their weaknesses and strengths but it's toughest to come out the third time and perform well," Morgan said. "The intensity will be there, so I think it will be a great game."

The winner will advance to play the winner of the Texas A&M Commerce/Truman State game, on Saturday, Nov. 22, at the same venue.

Janigo admits if the Vikings do advance to Saturday, it won't be an easy ride there.

"This is going to be one of our hardest games," she said. "If we get past this we have a good chance of going all the way. We have to play a full 90 minutes."