The PHS Girls’ Soccer Team concluded a legendary 11-2-1 season that resulted in driving all the way to the 6A state semifinal on March 17, falling just short of the state championship title. Regardless, the year deserves copious recognition for the great memories it brought to the squad and its fans.
Some of the year’s most spectacular moments included 6-0 and 8-0 trouncings of Maricopa and Willow Canyon High Schools respectively, along with tough, one-point wins over Chaparral and Hamilton. Although the team failed to repeat the glory of beating their rival, Chaparral, in the postseason, the regular season victory was their first against the Firebirds in years.
“That just kind of helped us continue on and gain the confidence that we know we have,” second-year Head Coach Jennifer Larsen said of the victories.
And she has much to be confident about regarding the fantastic season, though she’s not the only one deserving of credit.
“They respond to me very well and I like to take advice from them, so it’s kind of a back-and-forth thing,” Larsen said about the symbiotic coach-player relationship within the lineup.
“I feel like last year especially we had a lot of individual talent, but we weren’t really able to find that connection that really helped us work as a team,” said junior Anuli Okafor. “And this year we have even more talent and with us knowing each other from club and outside of school, we’ve definitely been able to communicate with each other on and off the field.”
Okafor led the team in goals and assists, ranking as her class’s second best girls’ soccer player in the state. Although she’s slotted to continue playing in college, the star vows to remember this groundbreaking year.
“I feel like, looking to the future, I’m gonna try to cherish the moments that I’m in because you never know the next time you’ll be in the situation; the next time you’ll be able to do what you’re doing, especially with soccer,” Okafor said.
Many players and Coach Larsen also acknowledged the team’s chemistry.
“We had ten seniors this year who are really taking over leadership of the team and they just are all really good friends. They bond on and off the field and I think that’s what’s helped us this year,” Laren said.
One of these seniors, captain Alaina Kuhn, recognized the perfect storm that brewed in order for the team to succeed on this scale.
“A lot of people have just played on varsity together for so long. We’ve only had a few new people this year and even if they weren’t new we probably knew them around school, so I think it made it a lot easier to play as a team,” Kuhn said. “This is definitely one of my favorite seasons, especially since we’ve been so successful. I think the level that we’re playing and the people on the team just really bonded together and it just makes it so much fun playing throughout the season,” she added.
Unfortunately, the team also played through the COVID-19 pandemic that delayed the season’s start and affected so many aspects of sports at Pinnacle and around the country. During the offseason, players usually practice in clubs, an experience Okafor claims has changed massively due to the virus.
“For club, it’s definitely been a lot of individual training, a lot of developing your skill as an individual player by yourself one-on-one instead of with your coach right in front of you or with teammates around you,” she said.
When the season did start, the school took many precautions to prevent the spread.
“We’ve had to wear masks everywhere: on the field, off the field, playing games. We used hand sanitizer, we had to do a COVID check-up before every game and practice to make sure everyone was feeling good,” Larsen said.
Another burden placed on players as a result of the pandemic surfaced in the increased difficulty of attracting college scouts to recognize their play. Everyone on the team wants to play at the next level, but achieving this proved harder this year.
“During club season it was a lot harder for college coaches to be able to find you and to be recruited that way,” Kuhn said.
Yet despite this year’s trials and tribulations, the PHS Girls’ Soccer Team managed to thrive and muster one of their best seasons in years. Although Kuhn and other seniors move on next year, much of the talent expects to return for 2021-22 with a vengeance and desire to go all the way.