West Valley Preps
Shadow Ridge girls soccer coach John Gray thought his team could handle the transition up to 6A this winter.
Did he think the Stallions would only allow 11 goals in 19 games or enter the final week of the season ranked No. 13 in the big school division? Not exactly.
While the program was expected to continue its upward trajectory, Shadow Ridge entered the postseason a year ago as the No. 19 ranked team in 5A. And two freshmen would have to fortify the defense.
“I’m surprised at how good our defense is,” Gray said. “I think some of the 6A people were wondering who we were.”
Indeed, compared to other teams moving up to 6A, the Stallions had a very low profile. 2018 5A champ Scottsdale Chaparral and quarterfinalists Liberty and Queen Creek were among other schools making the jump.
Entering the season, the Stallions main focus was on the Liberty and Queen Creek programs.
Before this winter, the Stallions girls were 0-4 against Queen Creek and 0-6 in matchups with Liberty.
“Four of those Liberty losses were one goal,” Gray said.
Their first 6A game was a 3-0 dismantling of Queen Creek on Nov. 30.
A pair of 1-0 losses to Boulder Creek and Mesa Westwood deflated the squad a bit just before winter break.
However, a 1-0 win at Liberty Jan. 8 jump started the second half of the season.
“Those were our main games and focuses of the year. We put a lot of joy into these games,” senior midfielder Rachel Young said.
Young is back after spending 2017-18 playing for SC del Sol’s U.S. developmental academy.
She said the developmental academy provided great recruiting opportunities and led to a scholarship to play at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, La. That long-distance college journey spurred her to spend one more season at Shadow Ridge.
“I came back for my parents. I’m going to school in Louisiana next year so they won’t be able to see me play much,” Young said.
Young leads the Stallions with 17 goals and has added seven assists.She has filled a crucial role after Shadow Ridge graduated a pair of elite offensive players Mari Labansat and Jordan Lafferty.
“She’s big, strong, aggressive and controls the ball. She basically is taking the place of Jordan,” Gray said.
Though her stats to do not compare, Gray said Hailey Hansen has provided a steady senior force in the middle.
Fellow senior center midfielder Hailey Myers is the third crucial senior, while a fourth senior, Mollie Konieczny, sees significant time as well.
“We had no idea what to expect. After a few games, we knew we were improved,” Myers said.
Part of that is thanks to the freshman defensive duo.Freshman defenders Abby O’Connor and Sophie Konieczny have played larger roles than originally expected and contributed mightily to that defensive approach.
Senior Alyssa Francia tore her ACL before the season and necessitated the switches.
Gray said Shadow Ridge kind of switched with Millennium, and has taken over the Tigers spot atop the 6A Southwest Region.
“I think the girls have gotten closer,” Myers said.
That mix has the Stallions at 10-2 for the season and No. 13 in 6A as the playoffs start. In an ironic twist, Shadow Ridge will host No. 20 Queen Creek in a play-in game Thursday night.
Win that, and the team will travel to play an East Valley powerhouse Saturday afternoon.
With only four seniors playing regularly, the future is promising for the Stallions. But they will miss Myers and Young, who along with fellow captain Gretchen Kuffel — a junior midfielder — has set the tone for the best season in school history.
“I think that comes from Rachel. She’s the heart of the team,” Gray said. “Haley Myers isn’t the biggest player in the world but plays like she’s 6-5. I think this team is a little different than last year but a lot of girls still hang out in the offseason.” Gray said.