By BOB YORK –
Among the cherished moments Heidi Valk will remember about the 2012 Big Green girls soccer season will be all those long faces she could see on the Loomis Chaffee sidelines. Another thing she is sure to remember is how they got there.
“I’ve been a part of the girls soccer program here at Deerfield Academy for 21 of its 24 years,” said the veteran mentor, “and we’d never, ever beaten Loomis Chaffee. We’d tied them before … but never beaten them.
“They run a high-end program down there,” added Valk, with a tip of the cap to a school that has won five New England Class A girls soccer titles since the 2000 season. “Year in and year out, they send a good percentage of their seniors off to Division I college programs and it’s tough to compete against programs like that.”
This fall would appear no different. The Big Green, which owned a 6-2-0 record at the midway mark of the season, hosted Loomis and fell by a 3-1 margin. Deerfield would bounce back, however, finish up at 8-4-2 and earn an eighth-seed in postseason play. That last-but-not-least berth earned Valk and her charges a visit to the top seed: Loomis. This time, however, things would be different. This time David would slay Goliath.
“I’d have to say this was the biggest thing to happen to this program since 1997 when we went undefeated, but lost to Buckingham Brown & Nichols in the tournament finals,” said Valk of the Big Green’s 1-0 win over Loomis.
What will go down as quite possibly the biggest goal ever scored in this program was netted by Claire Goss (13), following a shot by Mercedes Fissore-O’Leary (15).
“Mercedes made the original shot, which the Loomis goaltender made the save on,” explained Valk. “After she made the save, however, the ball bounced off the crossbar and dropped down in front of the net, and Claire just kicked it in.
“I really can’t take much credit about scoring that goal,” said a modest Goss, who scored two of her team’s three goals last year to lead Twin Falls (Idaho) High School to its district championship. “Mercedes did all the work … she dribbled through the defense and took the shot. I just happened to be standing in the right place and kicked the ball past the goalie, who was still on the ground.
“It was a very satisfying goal,” added Goss, who scored 42 of them in just 18 games last fall. “The Loomis goalie was very impressive. She plays on an Under-18 National Team and is very good and it felt good to get one past her.”
So, the good news was that Deerfield was now leading, 1-0, the bad news was it had to maintain that slimmest of leads for nearly the entire second half.
“We scored just five minutes into the second half, so all we had to for the next 35 minutes was to keep the best team in New England from scoring,” said Valk. “We did it, but to me it seemed more like 35 years.”
That’s where goaltender Libby Murray (14) and her defensive cohorts took over and came up big, “as Loomis moved just about all of their players into their offensive zone and booted everything at us that they could,” said Valk.
“Fortunately, Libby was up to the challenge as she was called upon to make a number of outstanding saves down the stretch in order to preserve the win for us.”
And with the sound of the final whistle came a vivid contrast along the two sidelines.
“You could just see it in their faces on the Loomis sidelines,” said Valk, “they couldn’t believe what had just happened … everybody … the players … the fans … everyone was in shock.”
Behind her, Valk had only to turn around to witness what the thrill of victory was all about – and it appeared to be well worth the wait. “All the kids were just going crazy,” remembers Valk. “They were so excited at pulling off such a huge upset … in some ways, our season could have ended right there … it would have made for a perfect ending.”
The Big Green’s season didn’t end there, though. It ended three days later in the semifinal round, where it wound up on the short end of a 2-0 score to Nobles.
That setback marked just the fourth time all season long that a stingy Big Green defense allowed more than one goal in a game, as Murray keyed the way, averaging just over seven saves a game, while sporting a minuscule 1.25 goals against average. Murray would be the first to admit, however, that she had plenty of help from her friends. That group would be made up of defenseman Cate Wadman (13), who shared this year’s Marjorie Ellis Cup, as the team’s Most Valuable Player, with Vanessa Avalone (13). Julia Fissore-O’Leary (15), Caroline Coppinger (15) and Allie Roberts (16) also played key defensive rolls, as did midfielder Alex Hrabchak (15).
Offensively, Goss not only scored the biggest goal of the season, she also scored the most this season for the Big Green. Despite missing nearly half the season with mono, then a concussion, followed by a sprained ankle, the postgraduate student, whom Valk described as “the only Division I college girls soccer recruit (Dartmouth) we’ve had here in quite some time,” made her brief stay worthwhile, as she netted eight goals on the season and earned a berth on the Boston Globe All-Scholastic Team. Tally Behringer (14) followed with seven, while Mercedez Fissore-O’Leary, who was named to the Western New England Prep School Girls Soccer League All-Star team along with her twin sister, Julia, followed with six. The trio thus accounted for 21 of the 27 goals Deerfield scored on the season.
“This was a fantastic season,” said Valk, “and despite the success we achieved, we’re still a pretty young team. We’re losing just five seniors to graduation, so I’m hoping the kids who played a part of our success this season will gain confidence in what they did, return and build on what we’ve accomplished here.
“Claire’s soccer talents were astounding and she proved to be a tremendous leader for us both on and off the field,” added Valk, but I think with both Tally and Mercedes returning, they can help fill the scoring void.
“Defensively, we have most of the pieces coming back,” continued Valk, “so if we’re able to get a couple of new faces who can help us out and we’re able to remain healthy, I don’t see why we can’t make another run at postseason play.”