Warriors Post Strong Campaign Despite Challenges
Senior captain Michael Brooks and the Valley Regional boys’ soccer squad turned in a 7-3 record this year. Brooks earned All-Shoreline Conference Second Team honors with two goals to his credit as a defenseman. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Junior Jake Burdick tallied nine goals and six assists this season and garnered All-Shoreline Conference First Team recognition for his stellar work in the midfield. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Senior Sam Helsel claimed the Warriors’ Most Improved Award this season after claiming a varsity starting spot with the team. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
The Valley Regional boys’ soccer team showed that they were one of the best teams in the Shoreline Conference this year. After a 2019 campaign that was characterized by inopportune injuries, the Warriors remained mostly healthy with a solid core of quality players in 2020.
Valley turned in a 7-3 record earning the No. 3 seed in the Shoreline Conference Tournament after just missing the tourney in the year prior. Unfortunately, Head Coach Mick Fearon’s squad was unable to partake in the playoffs this postseason due to an uptick in positive COVID tests at Valley Regional, which forced the school to close temporarily just prior to Shorelines.
While missing out on a postseason was a let down, Coach Fearon was still proud of his squad for meeting its goals this year.
“Last year we didn’t even qualify for the Shorelines, and it was a big disappointment. I know the boys wanted to get to Shorelines. A couple of school outbreaks stopped us from practicing. You would go from playing one game to the next and there would be no practices between games,” said Coach Fearon. “We were third in the Shoreline, and that was our goal. We wanted to get into the top four. We wanted a bye in the first round of the tournament. H-K ended up being the champions, but it was a bit of an anti-climax. We weren’t the only ones, though. If you talk to other coaches in other sports I think our story was pretty common.”
One of Valley’s biggest contributors was senior captain Michael Brooks, who wrapped up his final season with the Warriors after serving as a starter since his freshman year. Brooks was a key defender in the backfield, and he earned All-Shoreline Conference Second Team honors for his contributions this year.
“Michael’s been a four-year starter. Right from freshman year, he’s been a steady player at the back. The first years he played more outside, and the last couple of years, he’s been a center back,” said Fearon. “He led with his experience and a bit vocally, as well. He finished the year with two goals. After playing defense for three years without scoring a goal, that capped off his career well.”
The Warriors had two players earn All-Shoreline Conference First Team recognition this season in junior midfielders Jake Burdick and Tucker Burr, who both earned All-State honors, as well. Each were effective in transition and were able to capitalize on offensive opportunities.
“Tucker ended with four goals this year after missing a three games. The goals he scored were in tight games. He put himself in the right place to put a ball in. He moved into the holding midfield this year,” said Fearon. “He was a steadying influence, and he was good in transition and getting the ball forward. He won a lot of head balls. He had an outstanding season. “
Burr also earned Valley’s Warrior Award for his toughness. As for Burdick, Coach Fearon described the junior midfielder as one of the most skilled players on the team with and unrivaled work ethic, to boot.
“Jake’s an excellent technical player, and he’s always had a good work rate. He had nine goals and six assists. There was only one game where he scored two goals in the game, so he’s not a prolific scorer. He’s happy to assist, and he delivers the ball into the box for his teammates,” said Fearon. “He didn’t score as much as he did last year, but I think he had an overall better season. He was creating for other players. The passes that he’s making are the ones he has to make to succeed at the next level.”
Another player who earned All-Shoreline Conference Second Team recognition was junior defenseman Andrew Salbinski. Salbinski also earned the Warriors’ sportsmanship award.
“When Andrew’s playing at the back, it doesn’t matter if its a top forward or someone not as recognized, he plays a hard game against them,” Fearon said. “His demeanor is very cool. He’s the type of defender that doesn’t worry about who he playing against. Some defenders give away a lot of fouls, but Andrew holds his ground. He’s an all-around good kid.”
Valley also saw senior forward Ryan Silva earn All-Shoreline Honorable Mention. Silva provided solid stats with seven goals and four assists to his credit, and the Warriors will miss his offensive presence.
“Last year Ryan played an attacking midfield position, but we graduated a lot of forwards. So we pushed him up to play left wing and center forward,” said Fearon. “He had seven goals and four assists from there. He’s a year-round player who deserved to get recognized during the season. I’m glad the coaches saw that.”
Also receiving Shoreline Conference recognition was Assistant Coach Bryant Ziobron, who received his third consecutive Assistant Coach of the Year Award.
Sophomore Sam Hutchinson earned team recognition alongside Burr as co-recipient of the Warrior Award. Hutchinson had an injury hold him out for the season, and this year, he looked as if he missed no time at all.
“Last year, Sam had an injury issue and didn’t play at all. This year he played as a wing back and did a really good job,” Fearon said. “He played at least half the game each time he went out there, and he was always consistent on the field.”
Taking home Valley’s Coaches’ Award was senior Cameron Ruel, who also had to sit out last year. Even though he wasn’t able to compete in 2019, he maintained a constant presence with the team. This year, he had the same mentality, and treated practices equally as important as games.
“Cam was another player who didn’t get to play last year. He was at practices last year, even when he was injured. He’s always in good shape, and there’s never a problem with assigning him any position,” Fearon said. “He’s always working hard at practice. Some kids will only look forward to games, but how you practice shows how you will play in a game. Cam practiced as hard as anybody.”
Receiving the Warriors’ Most Improved Award was senior Sam Helsel, who really stepped up his game this year. That paid dividends for Valley.
“Sam became a solid starter this year, and his work rate was very good. He had two goals and three assists for us and could have had more,” said Fearon. “He’s the type of player who works hard every game and practice. That was what made him deserve that award.”
Another integral senior for the Warriors this year was Keenan Pindar, who proved another versatile athlete.
“Keenan came in as a sophomore and played quite a bit. This year, he played left back and had a solid season in the backfield,” Fearon said. “He has a long throw-in, so he was also dangerous in the set pieces. He put defenders and keepers under pressure with those.”
Other seniors who have been a major part of the program for the Valley include Alex Pinkowish, Ryan Shea, and Andrew Sherman. Coach Fearon expects that next season will be an adjustment for the Warriors with several graduating seniors. Many of them have played major roles for multiple seasons, and that leaves much to be determined. Coach Fearon hopes that Valley will see strong numbers coming out after the pandemic subsides.
“We’re losing nine seniors. Pretty much all the forwards will be gone. We’re definitely going to have to decide who will take the position of those three. Michael Brooks was a four-year starter, and he will be tough to replace,” Fearon said. “Cam Ruel was a steady influence, but Simon Partyka did a good job rotating in for that position. Ian Silva is a junior, too, and had a pretty good year in goal. Last year we had five goalkeepers and this year we just had two with Ian and Jackson Bisson. We were down on numbers this year, but I don’t know how much COVID had to do with that. We still had some good depth. I hope we don’t lack that next year.”