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New coach Kibwe Cuffie helps takes Valley Catholic back to the state pinnacle

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic senior Callie Kawaguchi and the Valiants will face off against Hidden Valley in the 4A state title.

In the Oregon suburb soccer circles, Kibwe Cuffie is about as well-respected for his winning methodology as any head coach in the state.

He's a manager who makes average teams good and quality teams great. Cuffie once took a Southridge team that was stacked with talent, but annually underachieved and molded them into Metro League champions back in 2014. His reputation for maximizing a team's potential by earning his players' trust is renowned. That senior-heavy Skyhawk team, never one to hold back an opinion on a coach, swore by the tough and honest, but fair, Cuffie who Metro Coach of the Year in his lone season at Southridge.

His knowledge took him to the collegiate level where he was an assistant at Pacific and back to high school when he was an assistant at Mountainside last year. Cuffie's club soccer ties forced him to step aside at Mountainside due OSAA 6A regulations, but with his options open and interest abound, the veteran skipper set his sights on Valley Catholic.

Under former head coach Kayla Craycraft, the Valiants were a vaunted well-oiled machine regardless of classification. Since 2012, Valley has reached either the 3A or 4A state championship game five times, winning three of them. With a shot at stepping into an established rich winning tradition while coaching players he was familiar with, Cuffie jumped.

"You never know where life will take you," Cuffie said with a smile. "I've had the opportunity to be at a few different places and I've always been fortunate to have great support. Joel (Sobotka) has been awesome. He's an excellent athletic director. Other coaches from different sports show up to watch our games. So, the athletic community which is what I've been exposed to in my short time here has been amazing."

Since then, Valley hasn't lost a step whatsoever. The defending state champion Valiants are again a top contender in 4A having won the Cowapa League convincingly and securing the No. 3 seed in the postseason. Valley won its first round playoff game against Woodburn 3-1 on Oct. 31, getting two goals from Kate MacNaughton and a penalty kick from Sarah Jones to move on to the 4A quarters against Stayton.

"They were a bit nervous going into it, which is expected somewhat, but as soon as the game started, the nerves went out the window and they took care of business," Cuffie said. "Ultimately the goal for a team that's a contender is a state title should be that, but I don't want us to get ahead of ourselves. I want to have everyone concentrate one game at a time and put together good performances where they work as a team, work for each other and see how far that takes us."

Valley kept the postseason mojo going, beating Stayton and upsetting No. 2 La Grande on the road with a 4-2 win the 4A semis on Tuesday. The Valiants will play the winner of No. 1 Hidden Valley in the 4A state title game at Liberty High School at 3:30 p.m.

Cuffie said he's never inherited a gig where the program he's shepherding is so first-class. Previously he'd piloted fine teams, but never with such a bountiful background. Valley is the team every 4A upstart wants a shot at. The Valiants' sustained excellence speaks for itself, but it also brings bullseye to each and every game. It's a challenge Cuffie coveted, keeping Valley at the top while getting chased by teams in hot pursuit of the Valiants' success.

"It's one thing to take over a program that's doing really well, where you the target on you," Cuffie said. "That's a whole new ballgame. The opportunity to test myself in that situation was very attractive to me."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic junior midfielder Riley McGee and the Valiants will face off against Hidden Valley in the 4A state title on Saturday.

MacNaughton, Jones, Josephine Clark, Callie Kawaguchi and the rest of the Valiant seniors are accustomed to winning at a high level. Cuffie said they're a coachable group that was on board with his methods early on: valuing possession with a purpose and playing solid positional defense.

"When you have your seniors buy into what you're doing and they can help spread the message to everyone else, it makes it easier for me," Cuffie said. "I have some really good leaders. We have a top goalkeeper, a top midfield, great defenders and our forwards score tons of goals. Goals win matches and those will always get the headlines, but it's really been a team effort."

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