by Bob York
Staring at final scores such as 13-0, 6-2, 8-0, 6-0 and 9-1, it’s probably hard to imagine that those sweet and innocent faces belonging to the members of the Big Green girls soccer team could possibly wreak such havoc on some of their opponents this season—but they have.
In the words of Heidi Valk, who has been coaching this program for the past 22 years, “This is the most talented offensive team I’ve ever had here at Deerfield,” and that productive prowess will be on display this Saturday (November 9) for all of Big Green Nation to see.
The Deerfield girls soccer team will close out its regular season on Saturday by hosting archrival Choate in a game scheduled to begin at 11:00 am, but you don’t have to be on campus to watch the game—it can be seen via webcast at deerfield.edu/go/beatchoate.
“It’s been a crazy year and this (the game being broadcast) will just make it a little crazier,” said Valk. “We’ve been sort of downplaying it until now because we wanted to make sure the kids were concentrating on each and every game and not thinking about playing online.
“It should be a great game to watch, though,” added Valk. “No matter what the final score is, this is always a well played game between two very competitive programs. Plus, with it always being the last game of the season, tournament berths are often at stake and that always adds to its importance.”
This year, the Big Green (7-5-1) is seeking a return engagement to the postseason, where it made it to the semifinal round last year by chalking up one of its biggest wins in school history: a 1-0 drubbing of top-seeded Loomis. Choate, meanwhile, will bring a 12-2-1 record into Saturday’s showdown.
As to the key behind Deerfield’s offensive explosiveness, Valk describes it this way: “Other teams we play might be bigger and stronger, and others might be more athletic, but I doubt you’ll find one as technically sound as we are.
“Our skill level throughout the team is pretty even and that means our kids are able to pass, dribble, and move through the opposition,” added the Big Green mentor. “The kids see the field well and know where the open players are, and when we share the ball and play as a team, we play well.”
Valk’s explosive offense is headed up by Mercedes Fissore-O’Leary ’15. She has rung up 16 goals, including a five-goal performance during that 13-0 victory over Kent and a three-goal outburst to highlight a 6-0 win over Andover. Jacqueline Minor ’17, meanwhile, has been enjoying her debut on the prep school level by having registered 15 goals and together, this dynamic duo has accounted for 31 of the Big Green’s 48 goals to date.
Despite Deerfield’s bomb squad on offense, Valk has been forced to cross her fingers a bit more than she would have liked to this fall. While five final tallies might be found more frequently on a football scoreboard, two others—2-0 and 1-0—were all about soccer. Then, mix in a 1-1 tie, along with a pair of 2-1 and 1-0 setbacks and you find a team teetering on postseason play.
Libby Murray ’14 has been big in goal for the Big Green, allowing only 13 goals in 13 games. She has registered five shutouts and allowed just one goal on three occasions and two goals in two other games.
“Libby’s done an outstanding job for us in goal and the confidence we all have in her allows us to think more offensively while we out there on the field,” said Co-captain Jackie Dowling ’14 of Murray, her fellow co-captain, who posted a stingy 1.25 goals against average as a junior.
“As far as our offense is concerned,” added Dowling, who plays midfielder and thus is involved in both the team’s offensive and defensive transition, “the key has been our technical skills … our ability to pass the ball … to find the open player … to play as one.”
Sam Chai ’15 and Allie Hrabchak ’15 have also proven to be mainstays at midfield for the Big Green this season, while Julia Fissore-O’Leary ’15 and Caroline Coppinger ’15 head up the defensive pairings.
“I knew early on that we had the potential to be a good team,” said Valk. “I knew we had the individual talent, it was just a matter of getting that individual talent to work together as a team and that’s exactly what they’ve done.”