‘A year of progress’

Published 5:27 am Thursday, June 22, 2017

Cumberland High School’s varsity girls soccer team finished the 2017 season with a 2-12-3 record, but the squad positively began to bridge the gap between athleticism and specific soccer skill.

“It was definitely a year of progress,” Lady Dukes Head Coach Heather Sutton said.

Acknowledging the tendency for players with limited soccer experience to just compete on natural athletic ability alone, she said her players demonstrated enormous growth in regard to soccer skill and “are starting to become soccer players.”

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The coach described a soccer player as someone having coordination with their footwork. She said this is hard to develop in high school, as student-athletes have been taught hand-eye coordination but not foot-eye coordination.

Lady Dukes players were able to become more balanced about using their entire body and their feet for the sport, and Sutton said they have seen progress in other sports because of it.

She noted that she did think the team would have a few more wins than it ended up with this season, but injuries were a factor.

Additionally, she said that when two of her players’ classmates, Michaela and Tyauna Woodson, died tragically in late April, “it rocked my team.”

Sutton said the team had to switch gears. In the course of the healing process, it focused on being a family.

Cumberland later achieved its second win of the season in the postseason. The ninth-seeded Lady Dukes topped No. 8 Nottoway High School 1-0 in the first round of the Quad Rivers Conference 34 tournament, which pitted Group 1A Cumberland against Group 2A opponents.

Just like in 2016, in the second round the Lady Dukes encountered perennial juggernaut No. 1 Goochland High School, falling this time 10-0.

“It’s just frustrating when you get the same outcome, and you’re thrown in with teams that you really shouldn’t be with,” Sutton said.

In highlighting a high point of the season, the coach’s thoughts turned to an inspiring performance by one of her standouts.

During a game early in the year, “we didn’t have a whole lot of energy, momentum, anything, and so I switched my goalkeeper, Allison (Gilbert), out and put her on field, and she’s just kind of a spitfire, and she’s great in goal, but she’s great on field,” Sutton said. “She went out and scored a goal within the first five minutes of being on the field. So, to go from goal, making probably 15 saves in the first half, to go in the second half, play on field, score a goal there, she definitely I think showed the other girls, like, you just need to do it. Just step up and do it. That kind of set that tone for them, and they needed that.”

Gilbert was a senior in her first year playing soccer, having played softball up until this year.

Another Lady Dukes standout was senior center midfielder Kaylah Paras, who recorded one goal and one assist.

“She’s just been my central leader for, I guess, four years now,” Sutton said.

Senior center defender Katey Hougland also drew praise from Sutton, who hailed her as an outstanding teammate even with an injury that sidelined her for a third of the season.

“No matter what was going on with her in regards to recovering with her ankle injury, she was at practice helping the girls learn a new skill or motivating them to get fit,” the coach said.

The coach said she is concerned to be losing Gilbert, Paras and Hougland, but she has some juniors who have already stepped up into leadership roles, getting a team involved in an adult summer league in Farmville.