There is an article posted on the front door of the Valley Center girls soccer locker room.
It features a photo of former Bishop Carroll Ashton McCorry and her teammates running to her in celebration — a bash that ended Valley Center’s season in the high school state quarterfinals. The Hornets look at it almost every day.
Last year, the Hornets finished 14-2-1. The Kansas sub-state championship loss to Carroll came in quadruple overtime after penalty kicks sent the Golden Eagles through to the state tournament. Valley Center senior midfielder Emily Breault said it is a game that reruns through her mind often and motivates her daily.
“It makes it that much sweeter to get there,” she said. “It was the way that it ended that fuels it even more - seeing that stupid picture. That picture just gives us the desire to crave more.”
The 2019 Valley Center team looks to have that same promise.
Tuesday night, the Hornets opened their season on the road against Derby, a team that finished 10-3-1 last year and looked to be a legitimate contender in Class 6A. The Hornets won 3-0 with a brace from junior defensive midfielder Vanessa Aguilar.
“She has won three games as the defensive midfielder with that shot,” coach Steen Danielsen said. “I think once that went in, everyone was able to breathe. I was uptight all day long.”
The first half crept by without a goal. The first half of the first game was almost guaranteed to be rusty, but Breault said she knew it was tough to watch and harder to play in.
After halftime, with rain lashing down, the Hornets sliced through the Derby defense, had more energy on the ball and took the first chance they had.
Senior right winger Ruby Aguilar took the ball to the corner, cut it back and hit her sister crashing in at the top of the box. Vanessa hit it first time, and it carried over Derby senior goalkeeeper Hannah Abou-Fassial.
“I guess the first thing that came to mind was, ‘If I take this chance, it’s either going to go in or I’ll miss,’ “ Aguilar said. “What’s the worst that can happen?”
About 10 minutes later, she lined up over a free kick from nearly the same spot, and struck for goal again.
Derby was playing without record-setting sophomore striker Brianna Moore, who is recovering from a torn ACL, but Aguilar said a 3-0 road win over Derby is about as good a start as the Hornets could have hoped for.
Valley Center lost two key pieces from last year’s team in All-Metro midfielder Emma Girtz and AVCTL II first team center back Sydney Martens. Danielsen said he didn’t know how this year’s group would react without two trustworthy pieces on the pitch.
“I talk to them all the time, and sometimes they freak out, saying, ‘Oh, I don’t have Sydney or I don’t have Emma,’ ” he said. “I say, ‘You’re now Sydney, and you’re now Emma, and someone else will be you.’ “
Breault said she, Girtz and Aguilar had built three years of chemistry, so not having a piece to the puzzle has been jarring at times. But sophomore Haley Sparks has dropped into an attacking midfield role leading the Hornets in goals last year as a forward.
Senior center back Kelsey Ray said her pairing with Martens in the back grew to become something special and different. But she said she is already developing something similar with senior Cheyenne Lisle.
“We already had somewhat of a connection last year when she played outside, but it’s different in the middle,” Ray said. “You have to build different trust.”
Valley Center will play its home opener Thursday against Rose Hill and being AVCTL II play April 16 against Andover Central. The Hornets are the defending co-league champions along with Maize South.
Danielsen said Monday was the Hornets’ first offensively focused practice, so to build from the back and put three in the back of the net shows there is real promise in a group expected to achieve so much.
“This is a really talented group that can continue to build,” he said. “The Valley Center girls have a really strong, competitive culture.
“Every day when they look at that article, next to it, it says, ‘Let your failures fuel you.’ That sucked feeling that, so it’s a matter of doing what we need to do to get there again and come out on top.”