Junior defender Mali Mack has the speed and leadership ability to make a big difference for Meridian this fall. (Nick Elges/Lynden Tribune) 

LAUREL — After reaching the state playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons in 2016, Meridian girls soccer enters the new campaign under the leadership of a new head coach.

Taking over for Terri Tigert, former Western Washington University soccer standout Paula French now sits at the helm of the successful program.

Inducted into WWU’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2005, French played for the Vikings from 1981 to 1984. During that time, the team went 49-5-5 and managed a streak of 38 straight wins with two district titles and one league championship.

Also coaching for the Whatcom FC Rangers, French will look to use her experience to lead a Trojans team that is replacing some top-notch talent from last season’s roster.

All-state forward Payton Lunde and forward Micaela Pimento, two key players for the program over the past four years, are both at Whatcom Community College. Others who graduated include goalkeeper Sydney Gospodinovich, the Northwest Conference Defensive MVP in 2016, and midfielder Ryley Zapien, an All-NWC selection last fall.

Junior defender Mali Mack, a second-team NWC selection as a sophomore, is the lone returner who earned all-league honors last season for the Trojans. She is joined by senior defender Victoria Melnyk and junior defenders Lindsey Moore and Mikhayla Boyd.

Coach French said her team’s strength comes on defense. She also mentioned that many of her starters have or are still active in club soccer, providing invaluable playing experience.

Learning a new formation and playing style under the new coach creates a learning curve, but the Trojans’ team speed should allow them to create problems for opponents.

The young team is also starting two freshmen in midfielders Karissa Benson  and Tinley Swope. French noted that turnout for the team was lower than she expected.

Meridian finished 13-5 (11-3 NWC) last season, good for third in the conference. The team fell 2-0 to Overlake in the Class 1A state quarterfinal round after earning a 1-0 first-round victory over King’s Way Christian.

The Trojans began the 2017 campaign at Phillips 66 Soccer Park against Lynden on Tuesday, losing 4-0. Meridian is at Anacortes on Thursday at 7 p.m. and heads to Blaine on Saturday at 3 p.m.

The first league game of the season for the program occurs on Tuesday at Mount Baker at 4:30 p.m.

Mount Baker girls soccer

DEMING — Mount Baker is coming off a one-win campaign in 2016. The Mounties graduated all-conference defender Molly Lynch from their roster. 

The Mounties were at Anacortes to open the season on Tuesday, losing 4-0. Baker hosts Sedro-Woolley on Thursday at 4:30 p.m., welcomes Lynden Christian on Saturday at 11 a.m. and is at home versus Meridian on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m.

Nooksack Valley 

EVERSON — Junior Sabrina Macy highlights a Pioneers team loaded with mostly juniors and sophomores this fall. The team went winless during the 2016 season.

Nooksack Valley was scheduled to open the campaign at home against Blaine on Tuesday, but the game was canceled. Nooksack hosts Friday Harbor on Saturday at 11:30 a.m. and welcomes Bellingham on Monday at 4:30 p.m. The Pioneers play all home games at Nooksack Valley Elementary School. 

Eric Trent covers sports for the Lynden Tribune.