Valley girls soccer team has tough section road ahead
Daisha Keys voiced cautious optimism when talking about the early-season state of the Valley girls soccer team.
“I’m not going to lie, we still have a lot to work on,” said Keys, a senior returning starter at defender.
“But we’re not taking anything lightly, and we have a good chance to improve our record this season.”
Keys said the mix of returning players, including eight with starting experience from last year, and several others new to the varsity program has created a level of excitement and anxiousness ahead of the season opener Tuesday at Section 2-AA rival Deer Lakes.
Valley is hoping to improve on last year’s 4-11 overall record and 2-10 mark in section play.
“The attitude of this team is significantly better this year, and it was a clean slate heading into this season,” fourth-year coach Aaron Smith said. “I think last year’s team was a little discouraged at times after going to the playoffs (in 2016) and losing all those seniors. But we had a great camp the last couple of weeks. They worked hard, and the improvement is showing.”
Freeport is the defending section champion -- the Yellowjackets went 11-0-1 and made it to the WPIAL semifinals in 2017 -- and Burrell, Springdale and Deer Lakes also were playoff qualifiers from the section.
Springdale dropped down to Class A for the next two-year cycle, and Apollo-Ridge, a playoff team in Class A last season, moved up to AA and into Valley’s section.
“We talked a lot about goals and expectations,” Smith said. “Section 2 in AA is really tough. Freeport always is good, and they are at the head of the table, and Deer Lakes and Burrell continue to be solid programs. They will be right up there challenging for the title, and we’ll do the best we can with them. If we can compete with the teams who are smaller like us, we’ll be fine. The bottom line is that we might not have the skills as some teams, but we’re going to play 80 minutes hard each game.”
Preseason camp began with only 12 players on the roster, but those players and Smith, a teacher at the high school, were able to recruit additional players to bring the roster to 18.
Smith said there is a possibility a few more could join the team as the season gets started.
“Most of them play other sports, and while they are new to soccer, they are very athletic and have great attitudes,” Smith said. “We know we can work with them and help them improve.”
With the numbers where they are, there will not be a JV team for the second year in a row.
Senior Heaven Butler, a two-time all-conference performer, is back and is expected to be a leading scoring threat in the Vikings offense.
Also fronting the scoring leaders this year, Smith said, are senior midfielder Autumn Doran, sophomore midfielder Emma Ruby Ward and freshman midfielder Emily Deringer.
The competition throughout camp to see who will take the starting goalkeeper job was between junior Alex Guy, sophomore Gillian Guzzo and senior Auveonna Perkins.
“All three have really competed hard the past couple of weeks,” Smith said.
Perkins, Smith said, is a solid defender in her second year on the soccer team after playing tennis as a freshman and sophomore.
“I don’t want to lose Auveonna in the field,” he said. “Right now, she’s a field player unless things change.”
Smith said Keys is the rock of the defense at center back, and senior defender Emilee Sorch also will help.
Senior midfielder/forward Jaden Baker is another player Smith said is ready to break out and have a successful season.