Those words by coach Chris Walling summed up the effort by the Twin Valley Middle High School girls’ varsity soccer team in Saturday’s state playoff match with Arlington. While the Wildcats eventually fell 3-1 to the host Eagles, it wasn’t for lack of effort or strength of will. Twin Valley gave the undefeated and top-seeded Eagles all they could handle.
Arlington has been a juggernaut during its undefeated season, outscoring opponents 87-4 while recording 10 shutouts. Because of that, Twin Valley employed a unique strategy for the match, eschewing its usual 4-5-1 line combination to pack the defense in front of their goal in the hopes of slowing down the high-flying Eagles’ attack.
“We went into this game with a totally different strategy than before,” said Walling. “There are certain teams that require you to do this bunker-style defense. We had nine girls between the top of the ‘D’ and bottom of the circle with one up on their sweeper. It was sort of a zone type of defense and it clearly slowed them down. They played it to a T.”
Twin Valley’s strategy frustrated Arlington, as Wildcat midfielder Rita Messing played physical defense on the Eagles’ top scorer, Tess Belknap. Eventually, though, Belknap and the Eagles found the cracks in the Twin Valley defense, and were able to push through a goal 36 minutes into the match.
“It took them quite a while to solve the puzzle,” said Walling. “They were getting frustrated. Rita did a good job on Belknap, but the kid’s so darn talented she was able to score. She’s that great of a player.”
Belknap’s goal didn’t come easy. It came after Belknap found a loose ball just in front of Twin Valley’s goalkeeper Tayler Courchesne and was able to tap it by her for the score.
The score would stay 1-0 through halftime, but 30 seconds into the second half Belknap struck again. She was able to break away from Messing and beat two more defenders and Courchesne for the score.
“Belknap had kids draped all over her,” said Walling. “She pushed it just past Tayler and tucked into the right side of the goal.”
Despite the goals, Walling said he was still happy with how the match was going. “We were still playing well. Those were just two great efforts by Belknap.”
Arlington added a third goal at the 57-minute mark. Lila Ward lofted a ball into box, which Alexandra Hoyt hit home for a 3-0 Eagles lead.
Twin Valley changed strategy at that point, pulling Courchesne from goal for Jayden Crawford. They switched from defense to offense and began pushing toward the Arlington goal. The Wildcats finally got on the board when Tatyana Bowman drilled a free kick home from 35 yards out. That shot closed out the scoring on the day, and for the Wildcats’ season.
“The kids played really hard and stuck to the game plan,” said Walling. “We hung tough for such a long time. I was really proud of them, and they gained a lot of respect from the other side. There were some nice things said in the lines after the game.” He added that after the match Belknap was very complimentary of Messing’s defensive play.
The Wildcats finished the season with a 5-10-1 record, which included a playoff win for the first time in a decade. The team was also on the short end of the goal differential, scoring 19 times while giving up 41.
Walling said he had high expectations for the players who are coming back next season, but that he won’t be manning the helm again. He announced his retirement from coaching the girls’ varsity team after Saturday’s match.
“Obviously you want to win it, but if not, that was the way to go out. After 19 years its time. It’s been a great run, I’m going to miss it.”