EMHS Girls Soccer Looks Strong
Flames Try For An Encore
HARRISONBURG — When Jason Capps took over as coach of the Eastern Mennonite High School girls’ soccer team for the 2009 season, the first thing he wrote on a board for the players to see was a challenge of sorts: “state championship.”
Five years later, Capps and the Flames capped-off a self-proclaimed “storybook season,” winning the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association Division II state title game with a goal in the final minutes to beat Highland (Warrenton).
“A lot of things kind of culminated in that moment when that goal was scored,” Capps said before practice Wednesday.
It was the program’s first state championship and a banner season for a perennially strong independent school soccer program. The Flames finished 19-1-2, with their lone loss coming to public school power Harrisonburg. EMHS, which competes in the smaller private school division, now has to live up to those big expectations.
So far, there has yet to be a hangover effect. Through six games, the Flames are 5-1, the only loss coming against Collegiate, a Division I school in Richmond.
EMHS graduated six players, and Capps said several others aren’t playing soccer this spring for various reasons. Nevertheless, Eastern Mennonite is No. 1 in the current VISAA D-2 girls’ soccer poll, two points ahead of Norfolk Collegiate.
“We’ve lost a lot of talent, but we’ve also brought up a lot of talent and it’s a special group in their own way,” Capps said.
The loss to Collegiate – 3-2 on April 1 after the Flames allowed the game-winning goal in the 76th minute – gave Capps a chance to evaluate his team. He called the loss last year to Harrisonburg a turning point, and this year’s midseason loss “a learning lesson.”
“We needed it. That game in a way was a wakeup call. … We were undefeated last year in the private school league,” Capps said. “I told [the team] right off the bat, this is not going to be an undefeated season. We’ve been getting increasingly tougher schedules each year and I just didn’t want those expectations to be unrealistic.”
Today, the Flames will play a rematch of last season’s state title game against Highland. The Hawks, coached by Reynolds Oare, went 11-5-2 last season. They are currently ranked seventh (27 points) in the Division II rankings with a record of 4-2.
“I’m super pumped and because we have so many new girls, it’s hard to really get ready the way that the returners are because they don’t really have that sort of rivalry,” EMHS junior midfielder Taylor Pisk said. “It challenges us and it challenges [Highland], so it’s just going to be a super match.”
Capps, also an assistant under Mike Van Horn for the Bridgewater College women’s soccer team during the fall, said he likes to tweak a base system depending on the talent he has each year. With Michaela Mast, Amy Trissel and others gone, it helps that EMHS doesn’t rely on any one player too much.
“We like to play entertaining soccer,” Capps said. “We don’t play that long ball, kick it and run, we got the fastest player kind of stuff. There’s a time to do that and there’s a time not to. We just try to have the girls play a good possession-oriented game.”
Junior defender Kayla Sauder, junior midfielder Bailey Waizecker, junior forward Sylvia Mast and senior defender Emma Petersheim have all stepped up in different ways, Capps said, but if one player were to take over a game for EMHS, the most-likely to do so would be junior midfielder Taylor Pisk, the VISAA Player of the Year in 2013.
Pisk, a 5-foot-3 captain, scored a team-high 19 goals last year. Her experience playing this past summer for the U-17 Elite club soccer team out of Charlottesville helped keep her in a competitive environment, she said, and her junior-year performance has been productive again this year. She enters today’s game with 12 goals and two assists.
“She’s developed as a player just playing club [soccer]… and on the field she just leads us with the fight that I want from a mid and from a captain,” Capps said.