How Eagle Valley girls soccer turned things around in 2022
Devils haven’t lost since March 24 and have postseason in sight
Coming into the 2022 season, Tatum Coe was just hoping to have a senior season with more than one win. After a 1-9 season littered with scores of 8-0, 7-0 (twice — one to their rivals, Battle Mountain), 5-0, 6-0 and 4-0, who could blame her humble desire?
With less than a month until she graduates, she has the playoffs on her mind.
“I don’t think anyone saw that coming,” she said last week about a six-game winning streak that included an upset over 3A No. 4 Vail Mountain School, a game where Coe scored four goals.
“I think we surprised ourselves and surprised everyone else.”
Indeed. Opponents have even addressed Devils players after games and complimented the tightly knit group’s uncommon vibe.
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“This team is just really special,” smiled Coe.
Eagle Valley is 7-3-2 and hasn’t lost since March 24. They beat Battle Mountain, a team that has outscored them 26-1 in their last four matches, for just the second time in their last 23 meetings.
“Every time we do something like that, we get a little more confident,” said Coe.
First-year head coach Jess Platt said even though morale was low at the beginning of the year, the team’s obvious passion for soccer was infectious.
“You’d never know it by how they showed up and how they played and participated in pre-season practices and through tryouts,” she said.
“They just love soccer — they’re supposed to be stretching and they’re kicking the ball around. They can’t stop. You can’t teach that. I just walked into a great group of kids who have a passion for the sport, and I’m just trying to direct them into the right spot.”
Another win against the Huskies, who also beat the Devils 5-0 and 10-0 during the 2019 season, could be key to making that spot the postseason.
New year, new coach, new us
Platt is Eagle Valley’s third coach in the last four seasons, but she humbly pushes aside any notion of responsibility for the team’s turnaround.
“I think it was mostly just setting up an environment for them to succeed, and they brought the rest,” she said.
Her athletes, however, have no problem lauding their new leader and the culture she’s established.
“It’s extremely noticeable,” Coe said.
“She brings a fun, positive attitude but she’s also all about business. She knows what she’s doing and helps us focus but also helps us have fun while we’re doing it, which I think makes a big difference.”
“The team didn’t really feel like a team,” added junior Sophie Webster about last year’s group, adding that “everyone feels more gelled together” this year.
“We took control of the team, and it completely switched. Now everyone is playing really awesome and as a team.”
Inspired by the boys basketball team, the girls instituted team meals before home games.
“We saw that and thought it would really unite us,” sophomore Cassie Carpenter said. They also made team shirts that read “#girlboss.”
“A girl boss does all the things no one thinks she can do,” Coe explained.
“She’s confident, doesn’t take no for an answer — so that’s kind of been the theme.”
On the field, the mantra has fueled a marked improvement in the team’s resilience.
“Last year, if we got scored on, everyone just gave up, and this year, everyone keeps fighting, which I think is the biggest change from last year to this year,” Webster stated.
Against VMS, their toughness was tested. After being up 2-0, the Gore Rangers poured on four straight goals before scores from Coe eventually forced overtime.
“It was a rollercoaster of a game,” said Carpenter.
“The fact that we didn’t let our emotions get the best of us after they scored four straight goals.”
“Being able to keep fighting even after we were down after being up 2-0, that’s what let us win that game — everyone’s will to keep going,” said Webster.
“Emotionally, Battle Mountain was a bigger win, because they’re our rivals, but beating VMS kind of showed us that we could be a really good soccer team,” she continued.
“VMS is so skilled and has so many amazing players, that beating them, we’re like, ‘OK, we have some serious skill on this team.’”
Even though the Devils have representation from each class in their starting lineup, everyone is close.
“The team has a really good community — you can talk to anyone about anything,” said freshman Chloe Greener, who credited senior leadership for getting the girls through the low points of the VMS battle.
“I think that gave us that last push of mental toughness.”
On a team with the school’s potential valedictorian as well as teammates who play multiple sports or even the clarinet in a school play — an event Greener took photos of for the school media department — one could easily agree with Carpenter’s assessment that “We have a really diverse team for sure.”
Junior goalkeeper Jaquelyn Castellon said the team is “one of a kind,” in how it welcomes all.
“Coach Platt makes it feel like family. More than a team — family,” she said.
“I love the girls — they’re great.”
Castellon was a huge reason the Devils escaped with a 5-4 overtime win, making two critical saves in the closing seconds.
“Honestly, it was great saving those last two shots on me; I felt proud of myself,” she said. After moving to goalie at age 11, Castellon has honed her game stopping shots from her brother — a club player for the Rapids in Denver. “He shoots on me and that’s my training,” the goalie said.
Unsure if she’ll enter the military or go to college and possibly play soccer, Castellon is focused on the rest of this season for now.
“To make the tournament,” she replied when asked what her main target currently is.
“Playoffs, that’s our big goal right now.”
Platt said the season-opening tie worked wonders to ameliorate the team’s tenor coming off of the 2021 record.
“It was a super intense, really fast-paced game. That was a huge way for us to start,” she said.
“The fact that they started with something other than a lost gave them a little bit of confidence.”
The Devils followed it up with three straight losses, but the internal growth never really dissipated.
“They kept building themselves up. I think they were feeling the success in practice and feeling success through those losses in the way they were performing the things that they were working on,” Platt noted.
Though a myriad of developmental focuses exists, Platt said one particularly important improvement was the Devils’ application of offensive pressure.
“We needed to figure out how to put more shots on goals and just test keepers more. It seemed like that culminated against VMS,” she said of the five-goal outpouring.
“We still have a long way to go, and I think that is a positive thing for us as a team to have something that we’re looking forward to and having an achievable vision of how we want to perform on the field, and we get to see snippets of that come to fruition each game.”
With playoffs at the fore, the Eagle Valley mindset has shifted 180 degrees. Instead of trying to lose respectively, they’re trying to set the tone.
“We come into games feeling ourselves and aren’t worried about getting scored on four times and ‘oh maybe we can get a consolation goal,’” said Coe.
“We’re worried about shutting them down early and taking all the momentum right away.”
“Coming into the year, the whole team collectively agreed that it needs to feel more united and more like a team effort instead of single players,” said Webster.
Coe said Platt has taught the players to “connect” with each other and has occasionally moved players to unfamiliar positions to garner a better perspective on the field.
“To see how we can best fit in in terms of playing as a whole team,” Coe explained.
“I feel like traditionally this school has played individual soccer, but she’s introduced how we work together on defense, offense, on and off the ball, which I think has made a big difference for us this season.”
The top teams in six-member leagues (like the 4A Western Slope) automatically qualify for playoffs, with larger leagues garnering two automatic bids. The rest of the 32-team field is selected via RPI rankings. Currently, Eagle Valley is ranked No. 23 and Battle Mountain is No. 27. Steamboat Springs, the top team in the 4A Western Slope League, is also the No. 2 team in the state’s RPI. With just three regular-season games remaining for the Devils, including a finale against the Sailors, this rivalry game potentially has more than just Valley pride on the line.
Platt is confident in the midfield getting the ball rolling — figuratively and literally — and the defense keeping them in the rest of their games.
“We have a strong defense and a great keeper,” she said. “She keeps us in every game.”
Wherever they end up, they’ll do it as a team. A team of #girlsbosses.
“There isn’t a girl that doesn’t contribute to the wins and losses,” Platt said.
“We’re going into every game with the expectation that we’re going to leave it all out there and see what happens,” Platt said.
If they make it to state?
“Oh my god that would be so cool,” beamed Webster.