Sometimes winning comes down to making a simple decision.
A year ago West Valley girls soccer coach Shelli Totton-Peterson graduated eight seniors – a huge number of losses for a Class 2A program.
“I really thought we were going to have to regroup this year,” she said. “I figured we’d be young, we’d take some lumps and it would be pretty much a growing year.”
West Valley’s roster boasts three seniors, but only one of them, Halie Gronenthal, starts. With two freshmen on the varsity, most of the roster is made up of sophomores and juniors.
Instead, the young Eagles opened up the season with a win at Pullman – the first win there in Totton-Peterson’s career – and followed that up by beating East Valley at home. Even a shootout loss at Clarkston in a tough, hard-fought game belied the team’s youth.
“That was a real eye-opener,” the coach said. “I could tell that these kids were going to play and were in this for the long haul. They were playing together and getting better and better.
“We had a team meeting and I asked them flat-out: Just how good do you want to be?” she said. “Do you want to be good? Do you want to be better?”
The team already was good. But they decided to be better.
“After that first loss we regrouped, we tightened things up on the defensive end a little bit and we ran off six straight wins.”
Gronenthal stepped up to be a team leader while providing a powerful leg on offense. In the second game of the season, she stunned the Knights by driving a 40-yard strike on goal, tucking the ball just under the crossbar for a goal.
“She’s been the one getting everyone on the same page,” the coach said. “Her leg is a potent weapon. Of her seven or eight goals this season, at least six of them have come from more than 40 yards out.”
Junior Davien Engeberg moved into the starting lineup for the first time this season, and despite being barely over 5-feet tall, she became the league’s defensive player of the year – playing a fearless, relentless style of defense.
“She’s a dynamo and she loves to get after it,” Totton-Peterson said. “She played in the midfield for us a little bit last year, but she’s much more comfortable playing defense. That’s where she loves to play. And the best thing about her is that she is one of those kids who just makes everyone else around her better.
“We thought coming in that our defense would be a weakness because most of those seniors who graduated were our defenders. But this whole new group stepped up and right now, I would have to say that our defense is our strength.”
West Valley finished the regular season with a 14-2 overall record, 10-2 in the Great Northern League to claim the No. 1 seed into the playoffs. The Eagles play host to the winner of Friday’s Cheney-Pullman playoff game for a berth in the state Class 2A tournament. The winner of Friday’s Clarkston-Colville playoff will play at East Valley Tuesday. Tuesday’s winners play Thursday for seeding, with the No. 1 seed earning the right to host a first-round state tournament match.
Totton-Peterson said she likely will get most of her injured starters back and healthy for Tuesday’s game – an advantage of finishing atop the league after the regular season.
“I may not get them all back and we’ll have to work around that,” she said. “We know that whoever we play is going to be gunning for us. We will tweak a few things, but for the most part, if we maintain our focus for the whole game, we’re going to be OK.
“I honestly don’t think we’ve played our best soccer yet this year. If everybody plays their best, we could really be something to see.”
Totton-Peterson said there are several factors working in her program’s favor.
For starters, more and more of her players have a background in club soccer – many of them playing together on their club teams before they arrive as freshmen.
“West Valley is pretty special,” the coach said. “We’re not like most other high schools. We only have one middle school and one high school, so the kids grow up playing together.”
In addition, the team’s home field provides a big advantage – the Eagles are unbeaten at home this season.
“We love our field – we think it’s the best home field in the league,” Totton-Peterson said. “It’s big and wide and that’s the way we like to play.”