LyBarger grabs Player of the Year
EAGLE-VAIL – Winning the 4A Slope Player of the Year Award or Coach of the Year is tough. It’s even tougher when you’re a member of the Battle Mountain girls’ soccer team because your stiffest competition comes from your own teammates and coaches. Battle Mountain midfielder Emily LyBarger got the nod from Slope’s coaches as the best player in the league and it was assistant Jen Davin picking up Coach of the year, leading a slew of Huskies onto the all-league team.”It’s awesome,” LyBarger said. “I’m really glad that I got it, but at the same time, I have to thank my teammates. They helped me all the way.”Huskies head coach David Cope had two players in Kelsey Sanders and Julia Burnett who each scored 23 goals in 2007, making them obvious candidates. But it was LyBarger’s presence in the midfield, not to mention her own big offensive numbers – 11 goals and a team-high 17 assists – that put her over the top.”What teams notice is that midfield general, that dark ponytail always running the show,” Cope said. “I think it’s incredible. She had 17 assists. She was only a couple off Jules’ record of last year with 19. When she scored – four of her 11 goals were game-winning goals – they were crucial goals. She’s just a solid player. When the game gets bigger, she becomes bigger as a player.”LyBarger, Burnett and Sanders made the Slope’s all-league team, while Kelly Bowles, Sydney Nichols and Kelly VanHee garnered hornorable-mention honors.
Members of the Battle Mountain boys’ soccer team have won Player of the Year the last three seasons with Andy Banner, Tyler Cole and Erik Garcia. But never have the Huskies had a non-senior winner.While Battle Mountain will have a hard time replacing the likes of Burnett and Sanders, it certainly makes it a bit easier with the Player of the Year returning. “It’s a pretty remarkable thing to bring back a player of that caliber,” Cope said. “We’re going to be asking a lot of her. We’re going to be replacing more than 120 goals. Emily’s going to have to be a bigger scoring presence. Leadership-wise, it’s now her team. That’s going to be fun for her.”LyBarger is no stranger to heavy expectations. She started as a freshman and has made all-league in her first three years, in addition to copious other honors in other sports.While she has shined in softball and basketball, soccer is her top sport and she will be continuing to ply her trade this summer at the Region 4 Championships with her club team in Las Vegas this summer.”I wasn’t expecting it. I was expecting Kelsey or Julia to get it,” LyBarger said. “They deserve it just as much as I did. I’m really excited that I have another chance, so we can go even farther in the playoffs than (this) year. We can prove to everybody that we still have a team coming back.”
Normally, Coach of the Year goes to a head coach. Cope is no stranger to the award, having won it three straight years on the boys’ side and last year for the girls. But he put up Davin at the coaches’ meeting and she was pretty shocked when she got the award at the team’s season-ending banquet.”He totally stunned me at the banquet,” Davin said. “I had no idea. It was pretty cool, I must say. I was shocked, and I was speechless for the first time.”As the Huskies know, that is rare for Davin. One of the many reasons Cope nominated her was that Davin constantly found ways to keep the Huskies focused on the task at hand, be it with pregame speeches or offers of sushi or buckets of chicken (for those allergic to fish) for header goals. “The opposing coaches see how the team goes over to Jen and gets a pep talk and motivation,” Cope said. “I think the players oftentimes seek her out at halftime for 1-on-1 advice or feedback. That was a nice recognition, well-deserved.”Davin often played the bad cop, dispensing honest feedback, to Cope’s good cop. She also has been with the team as an assistant for six years, helping bridge the gap between former head coach Kate O’Connor and Cope, who took the reins in 2004.”It was really special because it shows we have not only a great group of players, but coaches as well,” Sanders said. “Everyone put so much effort into this. You can tell she was committed. She was there for every practice, and it’s really special knowing that she finally got the credit.”
The appearance of Burnett and Sanders on the all-league team is about as surprising as Cope rooting for Manchester United. The two strikers have been attached at the hip for the last two years.Both had 23 goals each this season. Burnett finished with 15 assists, while Sanders had 14.”Off hand, I don’t know how many of those were to each other,” Cope joked.He might have been joking, but that was the chemistry between the two.”I would hear it training where Jules would say, ‘Kels, do you know what I’m thinking?’ She’d say, ‘Yes.’ Jules would say, ‘Do it,'” Cope said. “That’s not right. How can you have a conversation like that?”
Having played soccer together since the fifth grade, they finished their careers with an astounding combined 125 goals. Sanders is the school’s all-time leading goal scorer with 69, having broken Christina Aiello’s previous mark of 57. Burnett finished a close third with 56.”You always want to make your teammates look good,” Sanders said. “When you have good players on the field, it’s easy to play with each other and make each other look good.””It’s been awesome,” Burnett said. “I’m really going to miss her. Obviously, we have chemistry on and off the field. We’re like one big family.”
One could make a case that Battle Mountain, the Slope champion, deserved more spots on the all-league team. But with eight teams in the league and the ensuing politics, Nichols, VanHee and Bowles landed as honorable mentions.After winning a state title with the volleyball team in the fall, Nichols took over for Morgan Wallace at center fullback. With the help of McKenzie Stevens, Jamie Lee Roberts and goalie Kori Landauer, Nichols and the defense limited Battle Mountain’s opponents to just four goals during the regular season.”Here’s a kid who was a starter and a huge contributor in a state championship,” Cope said. “She turns around – I don’t know what is her secondary sport – but she’s playing perhaps the most vital position – center back. If you start allowing goals in the first 20 minutes, instead of scoring, the season doesn’t turn out with 15 wins.”VanHee and Bowles were ever steady in the midfield. Perhaps one of their most valuable assets, however, was the their ability to move back onto defense in a pinch.VanHee continued the family tradition in wearing the No. 10, worn by her older sister, Kate. “Her best traits are her determination and her athleticism and her ability to persevere,” Cope said.Bowles came through with two game-winning goals and often integrated into the offensive third well.”She’s a great passer of the ball and has really good vision,” Cope said. “She’s a quiet steady player. She never really seems flustered. She came up with key goals.”Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 748-2934 or email@example.com.