By Kyle Adams
For years, the Valley Central girls’ soccer team has been coming up just short. They fell to Monroe-Woodbury in the 2019 Section 9 championship game. Then COVID-19 nearly derailed the season for everyone. Then the Vikings had a coaching change. After going undefeated during the 2021 Fall 2 season, they were still the underdog in the title game.
“Monroe has always been the team that we couldn’t figure out. We’ve been competing with them for years and we always came up just short,” said senior captain Madeline Feller. “Our coach occasionally takes us into the gym to look at the banners, to use that as a motivation to actually get us up there and finally be able to end Monroe’s run.”
The journey would all be worth it. On Monday April 19, the Vikings won their first Section IX title in program history against New York State powerhouse, Monroe-Woodbury, with a 2-1 victory.
“Even though we were the top seed, it still felt like we were the underdogs coming in and we had to play our hearts out,” said VC senior Ava Stahl, who scored the first goal for the Vikings, about fifteen minutes into the contest.
Valley Central was awarded a free kick and Stahl went for the home-run, so-to-speak.
“Maddie (Feller) just said to take a shot at it and go far bar and that the worst thing that could happen is it misses. I just said, I got this, everyone was hyping me up and I got all the footwork right. I saw it go in the back of the net and it was the greatest feeling ever,” Stahl said.
It wasn’t going to be that easy though. With just over eight minutes to go in the first half, Monroe senior Kayla Harvey tied the game at 1-1.
As the game began and the rainclouds cleared away, the fans noticed a rainbow forming over the field. For the players, that meant some wet grass throughout the game. On Monroe’s scoring play, the VC keeper Deanna Murdock nearly intercepted a Crusader cross, but it slipped away and Harvey finished off the play.
There wouldn’t be any more scoring until there were just over two minutes to go in the game, leading to a lot of high-intensity minutes for both teams.
“I know I had to be on my toes coming in,” Murdock said, a senior. “They’re a team that can strike at any moment, we know what kind they are and I had to be ready.”
Murdock had seven saves in the game. Her counterpart, Chloe Kensen, had 11 saves for the Crusaders. Monroe had 12 shot attempts on goal, while VC had 11.
As the minutes started to wind down on the 1-1 game, overtime was becoming a real possibility. During their regular season matchup on April 8, the Vikings and Crusaders tied at 1-1.
“We played a longer game against Warwick in the semifinals. We had prepared in practice to play a longer game and even possibly getting to a shootout scenario,” said head coach Jon Walsh. “It really would have come down to managing the minutes, but thankfully Niki (Schmidt) made it so we didn’t have to go there.”
Nickole Schmidt, another Viking senior, had a moment she’ll never forget with 2:13 remaining in the game.
On a high, bouncing pass up the middle from Madeline Feller, Schmidt got around the Monroe defense and snuck it past Kensen to give the Vikings the lead.
“You just have to play soccer and be really focused on the game. It was so important for us to go out there and just have fun with the girls, one last time,” Schmidt said. “I’ve been dreaming of a moment like that my whole life; I just can’t believe that it actually happened.”
Murdock described her view of the go-ahead goal, from the opposite side of the field.
“I couldn’t keep myself together,” she said. “I sprinted up the field, I was so excited. I was very on edge before that and thankfully she got a great shot off.”
After Schmidt’s goal, it seemed like the clock went a few ticks faster and soon enough, the final whistle blew and the Vikings could celebrate a title which is significant in more ways than one.
“We were the first ones who are going to be able to put up that banner at VC,” Schmidt said on the Vikings first Section 9 girls’ soccer crown in program history. “It’s so meaningful to have gotten this opportunity and the last big win, as a senior.”
Any win against a team like Monroe-Woodbury is of great significance as well. The Crusaders had won two consecutive New York State championships. They had also won seven consecutive Section 9 girls’ soccer titles, with the last team to win the section -other than Monroe Woodbury – being Washingtonville in 2012.
“We hadn’t talked about that specifically, but we were well aware of it coming into the season,” Walsh said of Monroe’s dominance. “It’s something that everyone knows, that they’re the pinnacle of Section 9 soccer and we’ve been striving to get up there and match them.”
Walsh gives the most credit to his group of seniors. With eleven listed on their roster, this was the year they had all been waiting for.
“We have a great group of senior leaders, who have played together for a really long time. That really set the standard for what everyone else needs to do, without having to actually say it,” Walsh said. “They lead by example and the girls just knew that this was our year.”
In sports, there are always situations that you can control and others that you can’t. With a new coaching staff this season, one decision was a no-brainer - to bring in the coach who’d been with the group of seniors since they were little.
“I’ve known Doug forever,” Feller said of new assistant coach Doug Stahl. “He was the coach on our first travel team and he’s always had our back and pushing us to do our best. I’m just so motivated whenever I see him at the field.”
The senior captain also spoke about the mindset that has set the tone for the team this season and how they’ve been able to overcome so much adversity.
“Our seniors have been playing together going as far back as I can remember. The younger girls coming in really had the right attitude of just wanting to win and I think that’s what set us apart,” Feller said. “Today really is like the light as the end of the tunnel - it’s the best thing ever.”
“We’ve been talking about this every single day - this is what our lives have been revolving around and nobody deserved to score that go-ahead goal more than Niki,” Ava Stahl added. “I’m so happy for her. It almost made my heart explode and I burst into tears as I ran to give her a hug.”
With the field full of parents taking pictures of the team with the Section 9 plaque, the celebration was full of emotion, laughter and selfies – just like any other day for the Vikings, but this time on display for all to see.
“There is never a dull moment,” Feller said of her teammates. “We’re always cracking jokes or singing on the bus. Every practice is so fun; you never not want to be there. They just make every minute so enjoyable.”