While the home fans might have been a bit edgy in a first round Class 4A match that was a tad too close for their comfort, the Valley Catholic boys' soccer team was cool and content amid a 0-0 deadlock with Cottage Grove.
The Valiants dominated time of possession, put a double-digit amount of shot attempts on frame and played the sort of unselfish soccer head coach Mike Chertude preaches. So, while Valley was unlucky with the finishing, it was a matter of when and how a score would come.
Less than midway through the second half, Galen Dunlap was fouled just inside the box after a series of sick dribbling moves. Senior Nicholas Tubito drilled the subsequent penalty kick to go up 1-0 with 17:30 left. Valley didn't let the Lions come close to touching that lead and moved onto the 4A quarters with a 1-0 win at Valley Catholic on Nov. 6. Valley beat McGloughlin in the second round, 3-0.
"We're a very confident team, so I don't think we feel the pressure," Tubito said. "We go into games thinking we can win. We believe in ourselves. We go into every game with the same mentality. We just want to win the next game. That's the only thing on my mind."
Dunlap schooled the Lion defense with a pair of eye-popping deeks and was accidentally kicked in the shin, which sent the Valiant forward tumbling to the turf. Tubito, Valley's designated penalty kicker in such situations, went to the low right corner and buried it for what turned out to be the Valiants' only goal.
"I was nervous on that shot, a lot of butterflies in my stomach," Tubito said. "But after every practice, we take two penalty shots apiece. So, I just went through the motion. I just hit with power down to the side."
The postseason is a fickle, sometimes unfair beast where a team completely controls a match only to be upended by some random fluke in the waning minutes. Do everything right, play the game at a high level and teams can still be upset. For those aforementioned patrons living and dying with each missed Valley counter and every close-range slipup, this notion was very much at the forefront of their minds. All those seasons of work, all that promise can go up in sudden smoke. But Valley found its serenity in staying the course.
"We knew were overall the better team, so we were pretty confident going in," Tubito said. "Once we got into the rhythm, even without scoring, we felt pretty good. Our coach always says mental focus is the biggest thing. We always practice staying focused no matter what."
The offense flowed, the cross passes came in bushels, the set pieces were precise. The Valiants were just luckless but never wavered in their offensive approach of protecting the ball and moving it.
Rajan Tahnik passed a beautiful looping cross to Spencer Wells who put his head on the ball perfectly over the keeper, but the rock hit the crossbar, dropped straight down and didn't cross the end line. Charles Bettger had a great pass to Connor Bly that was saved by the Cottage Grove keeper who scurried over from the right post to glove the ball.
"Most teams in our division just kick the ball long and hope, but we like to possess and keep it," Tubito said. "Soccer is played with the ball, so you can't get scored on if you don't have the ball."
Four years of struggle, improvement and ultimately success have culminated into an outstanding season for the Valiants. Valley won the Cowapa League and earned the second seed in the 4A bracket. It's been a building process, especially for the eight seniors who played varsity as freshmen and stayed around to see it through. Defectors have been few and far between. Chertude has remained at the helm. The Valiants are comfortable and thriving with his offensive philosophy. They've created a deep team bond, one that spans to the Valley hallways and classrooms and spills outside of the school confines. The Valiants are a group that likes each other and will do anything for one another, which is huge in the big picture.
"People don't notice how much being a family helps on the field," Tubito said. "Valley is a small school, so we're all in the same friend group. We all hang out with each other throughout the school day, so it's not like we only see each other at practice. We're with each other all day, every day."
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