By Bob York –
As Wednesday, Oct. 30, came to a close, Deerfield Academy appeared destined to be making an appearance in the New England Prep School Athletic Council Class A Girls Soccer Tournament. Everything was going the Big Green’s way in a big way. It owned a 7-4-1 record … had just trounced its last three opponents–Taft, Andover and Suffield–by a combined margin of 23-1 … and enjoyed a football-like 48-10 scoring margin through those first dozen games.
As Saturday, Nov. 9, came to a close, however, the Big Green girls soccer team’s season did as well. What appeared to be a sure thing just 10 days prior, was no more. Deerfield concluded its regular season with three straight losses to finish at 7-7-1 and received a thumbs down on its tournament bid from the selections committee.
“I think if we had been able to win just one of those last three games we would have made it into the tournament,” said Big Green coach Heidi Valk.
Unfortunately for Valk and her charges, however, the schedule maker decided to save some of the NEPSAC’s best for last. And so, of its final three opponents, Deerfield found itself facing a pair of tournament-bound teams. Hotchkiss, which drew the tourney’s seventh seed, blanked the Big Green, 3-0, followed by a tough 2-1 setback at the feet of Wilbraham-Monson.
Then, with everything now on the line, Deerfield found itself having to tangle with the “Best in the West” in its finale, as archrival Choate (13-2-1) tuned up for what would prove to be an extremely long tournament run with a 4-1 victory. If it makes Big Green Nation feel any better, the very next day the Boars received word they had been awarded the tourney’s top seed. They would then advance to the finals where they ended up sharing the New England title with Nobles and Greenough following a scoreless tie through quadruple overtime.
“If you look back through the schedule, I think you’ll find we lost to the same type of teams … the teams that were bigger and stronger than we were,” said Valk, who has been tutoring this program for the past 22 years. “This is the most talented offensive team I’ve ever had at Deerfield and I doubt you would find another team out there as technically sound as this team.”
Adding to Deerfield’s arsenal this fall was the fact that “our skill level throughout the entire team was pretty even,” added Valk. “That meant our kids were able to pass, dribble and make their way through the opposition. They also had the knack of finding the open player and whenever we shared the ball and played as a team, we played our best soccer. The only problem was that some of our bigger and stronger opponents would mix it up and often wear us down.”
The Big Green’s leading scorers this season were Mercedes Fissore-O’Leary (15) and Jacqueline Minor (17). Fissore-O’Leary paved the way with 18 goals to run her total to 29 over a three-year span, while Minor enjoyed a prosperous debut on the prep school level by chipping in 15. Other key contributors this season were midfielders Jackie Dowling (14), Lili Brown (14), Tally Behringer (14) and Liz Forelle (14).
“It was a tough way to end the season,” said Dowling, as she and her teammates watched their chance for a tournament appearance slip and slide away following that late-season three-game skid. “All three of those teams always played us tough and with Jackie (Minor, Deerfield’s second-leading scorer) out with a concussion at the end of the season, we had a difficult time getting our offense going.”
The Big Green’s goaltending chores were once again in the capable hands of Libby Murray (14) who shared this year’s Marjorie Ellis Cup with Dowling. Murray posted a 1.25 goals against average during her junior year and followed that stingy performance up this season by allowing an average of just 1.27 goals per game. She finished the season with five shutouts and issued two goals or less in 13 of 15 games.
“This was definitely a crazy season,” said Murray of a campaign that would see her Green Wave teammates clobber back-to-back opponents by a 19-2 margin at one stage of the season, then immediately dropped consecutive 1-0 decisions. “From a goalie’s standpoint, I’d rather be involved in a close game any day … it’s much easier to keep your concentration … much easier to feel involved in the game.”
Looking toward the future, Valk said, “I feel very good about it. We have a good core of the team returning … especially a very experienced junior class. I think we’ll have a good chance of doing pretty well for ourselves.”
Heading up the list of next fall’s seniors will be Fissore-O’Leary, who was voted a tri-captain by her peers, as were defenseman Caroline Coppinger (15) and midfielder Allie Hrabchak (15). Mercedes’s twin sister, Julia (15), will be spending her third season patrolling the Deerfield defensive zone, while Caitlin Burke (15) should move into Murray’s vacated slot in front of the goal. Samantha Chia (15), meanwhile, will be returning to her job as a midfielder.