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By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter
Following her team’s 1-0 win over Arroyo High in last season’s California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division VI wild card game, Valley Christian High head coach Kim Looney sent a message for the 2017-2018 season. Looney said to back in two years to watch her team because the players she’ll have will be amazing.
She was already giving praise to the nine sophomores and three freshmen that were already playing like upperclassmen. Maybe she was a year too early because those young players have developed into a championship-type team this season.
After finishing in third place in the Olympic League the past two seasons with a combined overall record of 17-23-8, the Lady Crusaders have bounced back in a big way. Heading into the final regular season game at Heritage Christian High on Feb. 9, V.C. was sporting a record of 15-3-3 and 7-0-0 in league action. V.C. has won its fifth outright league crown in the past seven years and ninth overall in the 16 seasons that Looney has been the program’s coach. Looney is also in line to go through her third unblemished league season. Overall, V.C. has won 14 girls soccer league titles.
What makes this season somewhat unique is that the Lady Crusaders have not been scored upon in eight straight games and 11 times overall. V.C. has allowed 16 goals thus far, which would be reminiscent to the 2002-2003 season when that team allowed 12 goals and posted 17 shutouts, including seven straight at one point. But Looney compares this season’s team with another one.
“No, because we went out in the quarterfinals that year,” Looney chuckled. “This team actually seems a lot more similar to my 2009 [team] in the sense of the feel that I have with them. They were on a 13-game non-losing streak. The team back in 2002…it was filled; it was stacked. And we are stacked this season. We are attacking from all different sides of the field in the game.”
Unlike previous seasons when Looney would already have a number of juniors to replace graduating seniors or a number of sophomores to fill in the void of the juniors from the previous seasons, she says this team has been waiting and has had to do their time. Looney had to build this season’s team, which now has eight juniors, five sophomores, five freshmen and two seniors.
The strength of the defense begins with the tandem of junior Destinee Montenegro and freshmen Cassidy Samuelson in goal. The latter was the starting goalkeeper in December but has since been playing on the junior varsity squad. Montenegro has played in all seven league games. In front of them is a solid defense headlined by junior defenders Carli Domino, Mayrsa Garner and Caitlyn Wind, among others. Adding to an already solid defense is freshman defender Emma Spresney, who has fit the mold perfectly, according to Looney.
“With those two, because Destinee has still worked with us, I have two solid keepers,” Looney said. “And then Cassidy is coming up with us during playoffs. Carli is an outstanding defender, probably one of the best defenders in our league. Marysa has been in that defensive spot since she was a freshman and Caitlyn Wind has been in that defensive spot [as well]. They know what to expect, so they’re going into their third year.
“When you have someone solid in the goal and you have a solid defensive line, good things are going to happen because defense wins championships,” she added.
In the past, V.C. has had a history of getting off to very slow starts, then turning it up by the time league play comes around. But not this season, as the team has not lost since a 3-1 setback to St. Margaret’s High on Dec, 16. Since then, the Lady Crusaders have gone 12-0-2. In fact, all three losses have come in succession in a span of six days.
During the 2004-2005 season, the Lady Crusaders jumped out to a 5-0-1 start, then lost three straight games before finishing as Division V co-champions with a 17-3-3 mark. The program has won more than 17 games twice since that season. The first came two seasons later when the program was Division V co-champions again at 18-8-4 and the other came in 2008-2009 when V.C. finished 20-9-2 and lost in the Division V finals.
“I had 20 on the roster when we started and now 19,” Looney said. “We have been blessed not to have major injuries. That’s not something that we’re used to. That’s why I took 20 on my roster, because we tend to have [major] injuries. Just to be able to work at practice each day with almost two full squads says a lot when we go into games, because we’re able to work on so many different things.”
Offensively, the Lady Crusaders have been paced by freshman forward Janna Dunk and sophomore midfielder Kennedy Wesley. The former is the younger sister of 2013 V.C. graduate Jahdai Dunk. The younger Dunk leads the team with 13 goals, including five at Maranatha High on Jan. 20, which set a new school record. Janna Dunk admitted she never expected to be leading the team in scoring in her high school rookie season and said she expected to be the leader by the time she was a junior or senior.
“The season has been great,” Janna Dunk said. “We haven’t only bonded just as a soccer team, but we’ve bonded as friends and it’s been way more than I ever imagined. I thought it was going to be maybe a little nerve-wracking because I’m a freshman and it’s probably going to be hard to really get to know people. But honestly, it’s been amazing.”
The younger Dunk has memories of watching her older sibling play all four of her high school seasons on the varsity squad and even shagged balls during the pregame warm-ups. Janna Dunk would even go to every practice and pondered the thought of playing for the Lady Crusaders by the time she reached high school.
Wesley, who is a member of the Under-17 Women’s National Team, is one goal behind Janna Dunk. Together, those two have helped the Lady Crusaders score 66 goals through the first 21 games. Even with her commitments with the national team, Wesley has missed just two V.C. games.
“Last year, we had a few more upperclassmen than lowerclassmen and most of us thought that would probably be better for us,” Wesley said. “But I think this year has definitely been a lot better. The freshmen that came in are unbelievable. They have helped drive our team.”
Even with all of the shutouts and high scoring games a couple of times, Looney doesn’t want her team to let up. In that Maranatha game when team was up 5-0, Looney still needed her team to clean up in a few areas and be more disciplined in certain areas. Every time, the team has risen to every challenge.
“What Janna gives to our team is speed and athleticism, and she can finish in front of the net.” Looney said. “All of these kids on my team have different gifts. That’s Janna’s. Am I excited that she’s a freshman and I get her for four years? Absolutely, I do. She’s a great kid. But that doesn’t diminish the rest of them.
“Kennedy is an athlete that we haven’t seen come through our system,” Looney continued. “I compare her to the likes of Hayley Haagsma [and] Lynzi Bulick. She is that caliber of a player. But what is really cool about Kennedy is she’s played a lot of soccer in her life and she’s very humble about it.”
Should V.C., ranked second in the Division VI poll, run the tables and win the school’s third CIF-SS championship, it would finish with what might be a school record 21 wins, not including the potential for more in the Southern California Regional championships. Looney, who currently has compiled a 236-121-49 overall record in her tenure at V.C., has had a pair of 20-win seasons.
“As for the month of January, our team goal from the beginning of the season was to win a league championship,” Looney said. “We never said anything about shutouts. We never said anything about having a perfect 8-0 [league record]. We never said any of those. We just wanted to be league champions because it stunk to be in third place two years in a row.”
“I think the biggest difference is our relationships off the field have strengthened so much from last year, and that has really translated onto the field,” Wesley said. “Our captains this year have also taken a lot more initiative about what’s going on on the field and communicating with everyone during the games. Everything has just improved from last year. It’s definitely a lot more fun.”
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