By Ray Hamill — It’s been a memorable season for the H-DNL in girls soccer, and also a milestone one.
The league has now been in existence for a quarter century, and maybe even longer, according to South Fork head coach Ann Constantino, who has been in charge for 21 years in Miranda.
Either way, the league has provided a lot of opportunities for local girls over the years and continues to do so.
“One of the positive things I’ve seen is more and more Latina players,” Constantino said. “When I first started, Latina girls were spectators. Now they’ve become some of the most dominant players in league.”
It’s not the only growth the league has seen since its inception.
The development of local club teams in that time has led to a higher level of play in the H-DNL.
“The girls game has changed in terms of the style they want to play,” said Eureka head coach Tommy Learmouth, who has been around the high school game for the past decade. “Instead of everybody going forward and attacking, they move the ball more, play more as a team.”
The opportunities have also continued to grow for local soccer players, with more and more of them it seems going on to play at the collegiate level.
“I think the club teams have brought the level of play overall up,” Constantino said. “Coaches like Nick Parker, Kevin O’Neil, Patrick Stranahan have really dedicated themselves to getting the kids playing in the offseason.
“And I think we’re seeing more kids going to college now, and going in to play right away.”
Humboldt State women’s head coach Paul Karver also has done a lot of work in promoting many of the local girls playing the sport and helping send them on to the collegiate level.
This fall, five local players — Eureka’s Aquene Tollefson, Keylei Carroll, Brynn Hales and Klayre Barres, and Fortuna’s Sarah Killfoil — were invited for Olympic Development tryouts, showcasing just how far the standard of the game has come on the North Coast.
“That’s pretty exciting to see talent from our area going to do that and representing an area that isn’t always regarded as a powerhouse,” Fortuna head coach Kathleen Lynch said.
Lynch has been coaching since the league began play, and she’s seen first-hand many of the changes.
Some things, however, have remained pretty constant.
“Eureka and Arcata have definitely dominated it most of the time,” she said.
Until this year, however, when Lynch led the Fortuna Huskies to their first-ever league title in the sport.
Lynch was also head coach when the Huskies won a first-ever NCS championship two years ago.
With the diluted NCS field of teams — many of the better schools in the section don’t play in the fall anymore — the H-DNL has been dominating the playoffs in recent years, receiving the top three seeds in the Division-I bracket for the third straight season this past week.
All three — Fortuna, Eureka and Arcata — will kick off their playoff campaigns this weekend, along with St. Bernard’s in Division III.
It hasn’t all been progress for the H-DNL, however, with no Little 4 in existence here, and smaller schools are still forced to play against the larger dominating schools twice each in league play, with little or no hope of winning those games.
“It’s a little unfortunate to not always have enough smaller schools to field a separate small schools league,” Lynch said. “But it also kind of benefits them going into the playoffs.”