After graduating just four seniors, this year’s Western Albemarle varsity soccer lady Warriors are fielding an experienced squad. Last spring, despite being a young team, the girls came in second in the Jefferson District, won the Conference 29 championship, and qualified for the regional semifinals. Still, head coach Jake Desch said the squad’s inexperience caused them to underperform against their strongest adversaries. “Against the best of our opponents—including Albemarle, Jefferson Forest and Blacksburg—we ended up losing every time. It came down to a lack of fight, and that’s something this team hasn’t forgotten,” he said.
The point has become a theme in meetings, conversations and practices. “At this point, we have experience and maturity on our side,” said Desch, who has 19 players returning. “Many of our girls played on the team that competed in the state finals two seasons ago, so they remember that success and can contrast that to what happened last year. Meanwhile, we’ve gained some very talented freshmen that will push our older ladies for playing time and will hopefully have a big impact.”
This depth will drive the team’s success, according to Desch. “We’re a deep, athletic and skillful team,” he said. He hopes the dynamic of intra-team competition will leave the team playing scrappier games. Desch is betting this year’s lady Warriors will exhibit no shortage of ‘fight.’
In the March 17 game against Monticello High School, the strategy could be seen firsthand. Midway through the first half, with the score tied at zero, a group of eight WAHS girls began warming up and, a few whistle-blows later, entered the fray. Replacing the bulk of the starters, they attacked like a pack of starving wolves, wearing the Monticello team down and demoralizing them. After a breather, the starters came back on and played even harder than before. “It’s like they just don’t stop,” a fan from the opposing team observed, shaking his head. “The subs come on and they seem every bit as good as the starters. Then the starters come back and it’s like they have something to prove—like a fire’s been lit under their butts.”
On an individual level, three key all-state players stand out: junior midfielder Jane Romness, junior defender and midfielder Shannon Moore, and sophomore defender Julia Berg. “Jane is an extremely talented player who can do it all and has the ability to take control of any game,” said Desch. “Shannon plays both mid and defensive positions, has a profound talent for shutting down our opponent’s attacks, and has just really become a strong leader. Julia is a defender with such great intelligence and confidence that it keeps her from getting intimidated under pressure; she really comes through in the clutch and we’ve come to rely on her for that.”
To prepare for the regular season, players were encouraged to play winter sports. Those that didn’t were provided a three-month training calendar to help them stay in shape. “We encourage the girls to participate in other sports and we have numerous players that ran on the track team, or swam, or played on the basketball team,” said Desch. “It keeps the girls conditioned and gives them a break from soccer, but keeps them competing.
“We have very high hopes for the season, but the girls recognize that it’s up to them to come together as a team for us to reach those hopes and goals,” he said. “We’re looking to play hard each game, leave it all on the field, and see what happens.”