Valley Catholic girls soccer redeems, wins 4A state title
Valley Catholic, through the struggle, through the frustration, never gave up the fight.
Eleven shots total, seven of which came on goal. Near-misses that were inches away from the net. Stellar cracks at the frame that zoomed over the crossbar. The first 72 and a half minutes of the Class 4A state championship against North Valley were more dissatisfaction than splendor, more unease than effortless. It was a match Valley had dominated, yet the Valiants were deadlocked in a 0-0 tie with extra time and possibly penalty kicks looming.
It was a lot to overcome. It wasn't always pretty. But, Valley could care less about aesthetics. Not anymore. If you're trying to determine where the Valiants have grown most from last year's runner-up finish, that's where you start. How Valley keeps playing hard no matter what, how as a team they were willing to grate and rasp a game to take it rather than blowing a team out by five or so goals.
Conjuring up the sort of late-game mettle that turns runner-ups into champs, Valley senior Francesca Tubito booted home the go-ahead goal with seven minutes left in the second half to give the Valiants a 1-0 lead. And Valley's defense, buttoned down by superstar goalie Noelle Mannen, safeguarded the lead down the stretch for the 1-0 championship win at Liberty High School on Saturday.
"That desire to fight derives from a desire to fight for each other," Mannen said. "It's less about soccer and more about the team. Everyone on this team cares for each other. This is one of the most tightest-knit teams I've ever been on. Things weren't going our way and it wasn't the type of game we like to play, but everyone just kept fighting."
"It shows how much of a family this team is," Valley Catholic senior Taylor Menkens. "When it mattered, we came together and worked for each other. We showed Hidden Valley that we wanted it more."
"We're all so, so happy," Tubito said. "We've gone through some tough times, but we've grown. We had a couple of games that brought us down, but we learned from them and knew we're VC and we're better than that. We were hungry for the win."
The title was Valley's third in five years under head coach Kayla Gaspardis, but this particular crown was chalked with meaning beyond just winning state again. All but one player off last year's second-place squad returned this season, presenting Valley with a unique opportunity at redemption. Valley exorcised the demons that came with losing to North Valley in a 2-1 state title game that the Valiants very well could have won if not for an unfavorable play or two and a heap of onset worry. Against Hidden Valley, the Valiants vanquished their past with positivity and permeating supportive energy.
"We were definitely more mentally prepared," Menkens said. "That was a big difference. We were better at encouraging each other rather than getting down on each other if we made a mistake. We lifted each other up instead of putting each other down and I think that just helps out so much more."
"One thing that didn't change was all the support we had, but this time it's nice to go through (the post-game gathering) and see smiles instead of tears," Mannen said.
The ultimate game-winner arrived after a corner kick bounced out to midfielder Katelyn Snook who passed the ball toward Tubito. The senior lifted a high volley that hit the crossbar and dropped straight down on the goal line as the North Valley keeper tried to retreat and knock it out. Menkens was there to slam the ball home just in case, but the referees ruled Tubito's shot crossed the goaline to give Valley the lead. Tubito, who came off the bench in the second half and didn't play last season, catalyzed one of the biggest shots in Valiant girls soccer history, putting her up there with the likes of Sarah Connelly, Ella Turkot, and Reilly Blood, who helped capture two state crowns during their time at Valley.
"I was like 'Oh God please don't mess this up,'" Tubito said with a smile. "I had to do that for my team. I'm a senior, I had to do it. It was a messy play, but we got it. All I cared about was that it went in."
"You just see a bunch of bodies going for the same ball and you just want to get a piece of it," Menkens added. "I saw Fran kicking it, and saw it going in and hoped it would go in and I'm just so glad it did and so proud of this team for how far we've come."
The game-winner boiled down to a battle of wills, a ball caroming out of a cluster of skirmishing players that spilled out to Tubito.
"That's been our season when we've wanted it more, we've won," Gaspardis said. "Today you could see how the girls wanted it."
The nerves and angst that seized the Valiants' psyches a season ago in the 4A state title game were non-existent in the opening moments against Hidden Valley. Valley pushed the pre-game pressure aside with a peppering barrage of shots and runs, namely from Menkens and Callie Kawaguchi who seemed bent on taking the game by the horns and putting the Valiants in the winner's circle. Valley was confident and assertive. Parissa Sabet, Chloe Brock, Josie Clark, Riley McGee and Kate MacNaughton each took turns dialing in on the net. Credit Hidden Valley's goalie and defense, though. They bent but didn't break.
That was the case in the second half as well. Hidden Valley loitered around the game, making enough plays to stay in it. The No. 9 seed made the Valiants work for it all match long including in the aftermath of Tubito's goal. The final seven minutes were frantic and frenzied, but Mannen was the voice of reason on the backline, making two important saves, using her sure-fire hands to keep the scoreboard blank on Hidden Valley's side.
Valley's campaign as a whole, as Gaspardis pointed out, was inverted as opposed to years' past. The Valiants bolted out of the gate, winning its first six games by a combined 30-1 count. But as the season drew on, there were stumbling blocks along the way. Valley lost twice to Scappoose and didn't win the Cowapa League championship. Oregon Episcopal School, a former 3A rival, routed Valley to the tune of 6-1 in the middle of the year. When the 4A brackets came out, Valley was the No. 10 seed, a far cry from the days when the normally top-ranked Valiants never ventured off their home campus for playoff games. Yet, the postseason was superb. Valley didn't have a challenge in the first three rounds of action despite playing on the road in two of those matches. The high-level skill remained. The passing was first class. The finishing was splendid as always. But what stood out to Gaspardis was a newfound toughness that arose from a team that embraced the tenacity required to morph from contender to titleholder.
"They were a completely different team in the playoffs," Gaspardis said. "We had to find that fighter mentality. They are a great group of soccer players. We can play possession all day long. But, it's the competitiveness that these girls found later in the season that set them apart."
Kawaguchi, who had three shots on goal and four shots total, was Valley's player of the game. It was the final game for Menkens and Mannen, both of whom leave the Valiants as highly decorated, all-state players. Tubito, Erin Connelly, Tara Fuiten, and Rachel Orchard are also seniors who suited up for the final time as Valley players.