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BOYS SOCCER: Artesia dusts off the rust in season opener, doubles up Valley Christian

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter

The CIF-Southern Section winter season officially began on Nov. 12. One day later, the Valley Christian High boys soccer team played its first game, followed by its second game two days later.

Meanwhile, Artesia High had been idle for the first two weeks of the season, but finally got going when it hosted V.C. this past Tuesday. Backed by a goal and three assists from senior forward Sammi Valle, the Pioneers came away with a 4-2 victory. It was the first time these teams had faced each other since Dec. 6, 2013 and the fourth time since 2011. In those four games, the Pioneers have outscored the Defenders 17-2.

“It’s tough with the new CIF rule pushing the [season] up two weeks earlier,” said Artesia head coach Octavio Marquez. “We have so many kids still playing club that we couldn’t [start earlier]. A lot of kids were tired and it’s hard to get into a rhythm after playing so much and doing double duty basically for a lot of these kids.”

“They moved the ball very well,” said V.C. head coach Andy Anderson. “We knew that coming in; that they were going to be a high-possession team. So, we were just trying to hit them on a couple of counterattacks, which we were able to in the first.”

The game was scoreless until Valle fed a ball to junior forward Jose Aguilar in the 19thminute. But seven minutes later, V.C.’s go-to player, senior forward Kurtis Vandermuelen cut through the right side of Artesia’s defense and took a shot that found the left side of the net. It was Vandermuelen’s sixth goal of the season, half of V.C.’s season output.

Vandermuelen would also have a say in V.C.’s second goal as he drew a foul in the penalty box in the 64thminute and sophomore midfielder Diego Albanez converted the ensuing penalty kick for his second tally of the season.

“Kurtis is one of the best leaders I think Valley has had since I’ve been here,” Anderson said. “He is able to rally everyone behind him. He leads on the field and he leads off the field. He leads with his work ethic, with his mentality of never giving up; not worrying about who we’re playing but able to give 100 percent no matter what it is.”

But that would be the extent of V.C.’s offense, which collected four shots on goal in the game. The Pioneers spent the majority of the game on the opposite side of the midfield stripe, putting constant pressure on the Defenders. Ten minutes before halftime, Valle gave the hosts the lead for good. Then came halftime and whatever Marquez and his assistants said, the players responded because the game was won in a matter of three minutes.

According to Marquez, his team began the second half with more urgency to push the ball forward and they played a lot better in the second half.

Two minutes into the second half, senior midfielder Enrique Avila took a pass from Valle and deposited the ball near the ground by the far post. One minute later, Valle assisted on sophomore midfielder Daniel Gonzalez’ goal. For the game, the Pioneers targeted V.C. sophomore goalkeeper Trevor Hayes for 18 shots.

“It’s frustrating for sure, but it’s a learning moment,” Anderson said. “And if we’re going to make mistakes like that, we want to do it now, in preseason, where we can figure it out. Now, this is something that we’ll remember next time.”

“Valley came in here with a more defensive scheme,” Marquez said. “They sat back everyone back with one forward. They caught us on that [one] goal. We made a mistake in the middle, we lost the ball and they countered us. I think that’s what they were playing for.

“I think Sammi’s going to be the key to this team,” he later said. “If he can have a good season, I think it’s going to carry us a long way. In order for us to be successful, he’s going to be one of the key players for our team.”

After shutting out Crean Lutheran High 3-0 and Whitney High 7-0 to begin the season, Anderson said he and his team were up to the challenge of playing a more physical opponent in Artesia. The Defenders will travel to Clark Field in Lakewood to face St. Anthony High today, then host La Quinta High on Tuesday before travelling to Sage Hill High on Thursday.

“Definitely, the first half, in the first 20 minutes, I thought it was a fairly evenly matched game,” Anderson said. “Once they started figuring some things out, and they started getting their possession going…our boys, I think, mentally were there and were working.”

Meanwhile, the Pioneers hosted Animo Leadership High on Nov. 29 and will entertain Mountain View High on Saturday before visiting Millikan High and Mira Costa High on Tuesday and Thursday respectively.