Taking the steady presence and creativity of Ariel Wolff out of the midfield was not an easy decision for Valley Center girls soccer coach Steen Danielsen.
But after allowing three goals in a season-opening loss to Newton, there was a glaring need on the back line that Wolff could solidify. Since Wolff decided to sacrifice scoring goals to prevent them, Valley Center’s defense has been nearly impenetrable.
The Hornets have won eight straight games after Thursday’s 1-0 victory at Andover, outscoring opponents 56-0 during that span.
“I think the entire team is just a lot more comfortable knowing that she’s back there,” Danielsen said. “She’s been phenomenal for us and she’s been a big reason why we’ve been causing all these shutouts.”
Many games have followed the script that Thursday’s did: Valley Center builds its attack out of the back, maintains the majority of the possession, and frustrates opponents with patience.
Having an outlet like Wolff, who is accustomed to handling the ball and creating an attack, has made life very comfortable for the Valley Center midfielders.
“If we ever feel like we’re about to lose possession, we just turn and play it back to the defense and start over,” Evann Shelton said.
“It’s not only made our defense stronger,” Danielsen said, “it’s made our offense stronger as well.”
Andover finished with no shots on goal, largely because Wolff and fellow center back Jadyn Eddy chased down any attack before it formed.
“I love playing with her back there because she’s just a beast,” Eddy said of Wolff. “I learn so much just by playing with her, so she’s definitely made me step up my game.”
Andover remained competitive thanks to its defense, which included fantastic efforts from the midfielder duo of Baileigh Pepper and Anna Wilson, Shannon Young, who moved from attacking midfielder to fill in at center back, and keeper Elizabeth Aikman.
But the Trojans failed to generate any semblance of an attack.
“We had no urgency or passion,” Andover coach Chris Lemons said. “We didn’t play anywhere close to our potential. We didn’t work for each other. Everything was reactive, we weren’t proactive off the ball. By far, for me, the most frustrating game of the season.”
The game’s only goal came in the 17th minute off a Valley Center corner. The Andover keeper came off her mark to chase the ball played in by Mikayla Vega and missed, which left the goal open for Shelton, with her back to the goal, to chip the ball up and over the scrum.
“I knew I didn’t have enough time to take another touch because there were so many people around me,” Shelton said. “I just tried to kick it backwards and it went in. That was really exciting.”
For Wolff, an eighth straight shutout makes giving up her own goal-scoring well worth it.
“My main concern every game is to make sure my team succeeds,” Wolff said. “If everyone else is happy, then I’m happy.”
First half–Valley Center, Shelton (Vega). Shots–Valley Center 4-3–7, Andover 0-0–0. Saves–Valley Center, Reeves 0-0–0; Andover, Aikman 3-3–6.