A new standard has been set for the Valley Catholic football team.

Postseason berths and first-round playoff appearances can’t be accepted as measures of a successful season. Not anymore. Not even next year when the Valiants venture up the 4A’s Cowapa League.

Following a year in which the Valiants marked off three program-wide goals: Be competitive with Rainier, beat Warrenton, and clinch a playoff spot, Valley has a new norm.

The Valiants were beaten 28-24 by Blanchet Catholic in the first round of the 3A playoffs, but head coach Doug Ierardi said Valley’s hearty appetite should be faraway from content.

“I told them after the Blanchet game, ‘I’m never going to let you set the bar that low again’,” said Ierardi. “Just making it to the playoffs isn’t enough. It was one of our goals, and it was a worthwhile thing to achieve. But, then when we got there, and started to see how competitive we could be, just making is not enough. When we go up to 4A next year, we need to be more than just first-rounders.”

As Ierardi pointed out, when a team congregates in the end zone for the final time following a first-round loss, only 16 teams around the state are still playing, and half of them go home that night. The loss to the Cavaliers burned, but the Valiants knew what kind of team they were this season, and what they could be in the future.

“They know they can be more than a first round team,” said Ierardi. “I think they’re on board with our vision. I told them good playoff teams have short-term memory, and long- term vision. You have to forget your mistakes fast in football, and be looking forward all the time. I hope these guys have put that loss behind them. And, I hope they’re figuring out how to make things better, and go further every year.”

Ierardi said the Valiants had a great season not because they made the playoffs for the first time in the program’s history. When senior quarterback Carter Buuck went down for the season, and the Valiants lost their captain, leader and returning starting signal caller, Valley showed a lot of resiliency as a team. Buuck’s absence obliged other key playmakers like Clay Kemper, Liam Walsh, JD Menkens and Kazuma Lane to form a protective cocoon around their freshman quarterback Aidan Welsh.

“Some teams crumble when something like that happens, but our kids bucked up,” said Ierardi. “They showed their character, had confidence in each other and worked really hard to overcome that obstacle. I think that’s a testament to their character, and who they are and what they want to be as football players.”

Valley beat Blanchet in a thrilling 28-27 season-opening contest back when Buuck was healthy and throwing darts. In the playoff rematch, the Valiants played just as fierce with Welsh at the controls. However, Valley was 0-4 on two-point conversions, which ended up being the glaring difference in a 28-24 loss on Nov. 8 at McCulloch Stadium.

by: TIMES FILE PHOTO - Valley Catholic junior running back Clay Kemper is one of many Valiant underclassmen who are returning next season.

The Valiants chased Warrenton for years on end, yearning to lasso the Lewis and Clark League’s third seed, and move onto the postseason. Not only did Valley get the Warrior monkey off its backs, but it drop kicked Warrenton with a 40-0 walloping.

“Psychologically, that was a big thing for us,” said Ierardi. “To finally get over that Warrenton hump was fantastic. We’ve been chasing them for years, and just missed out.”

Next season, Valley loses Buuck, two-way stud Liam Walsh, offensive tackle John Tate, offensive guard Alex Baek, and kicker Makenzee Cleveland-Aquirre to graduation. Yet, that’s only five seniors gone off a team that won six games this year, and with literally every skill star such as Kemper, Menkens and Lane back in the fold, Valley certainly won’t be moving to 4A without a full deck.

Ierardi expects Kemper to take the brunt of the carries as the Valiants’ featured zone running back, and said there are other young players to fill in at the slot receiver spots. Welsh —who only threw six interceptions all year —will have a season of priceless starting experience that he nor Ierardi ever anticipated him getting. Not one to give away a job without a healthy competition, Ierardi said sophomore quarterback Alex Tranquill could put heat on Welsh for the starting spot.

“With all those guys returning, I think we’re going to be really strong offensively,” said Ierardi. “Aidan has a ton of experience now, and even though he’s only a sophomore, I think he’s going to rise to that challenge next year from the get-go.”

Tate’s anchored the Valiant offensive for the past three years and will leave a big void along the trenches. However, with Drew VanderZanden, Jakob Pruitt, Conner Williams and Brian Oakes returning, Valley has four of its five starters coming back.

“If you’re going to move to 4A, I’d rather move with four returning linemen out of five, that’s for sure,” said Ierardi. “If you don’t have guys upfront, you’re going to struggle in the Cowapa League. I’m glad we’re returning veteran guys in the front five.”

Schools in the Cowapa League have deeper rosters, and deep-seated talent pools to go to than the Lewis and Clark League, so league contests in 2014 will definitely be more competitive.

The opposing players are bigger and stronger, too. So, Ierardi said the Valiants have to take the bull by the horns, spend the needed time in the weight room to put on pounds, and morph themselves into the types of players who can do battle with Banks and Scappoose.

“We’re going to have to match up physically with those teams,” said Ierardi. “That’s been a big point of emphasis since I got here. Our goal has to be the ones who push people around, and not get pushed around. These schools have been in the league together and know each other really well. We’re kind of the new kid on the block, and I think we’re going to have to earn the respect of the league.”

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