|Co-captain Audrey Brown '13 was the recipient of the Coaches/Spirit award.
How do you top the best season in your program’s history? If you are the Western Reserve Academy girls soccer team the answer is simple – just win even more.
Coming off a school-record 12-win season in 2011, the Pioneers took their game to another level, finishing the 2012 season with a record of 15-1-1 and a No. 3 ranking in Ohio in Division III.
“We had six senior starters on the team so we knew we were going to be OK this year,” coach Joe DiBiase said. “We knew that Nicky Waldeck was going to be the best player on the field every single game and, in soccer, when you know you are going to score goals you can play a lot more relaxed.
“What I didn’t anticipate is how successful we were in breaking the other team’s spirit very early in our matches. There were teams that we normally would tussle with that we just rolled over and it wasn’t until a few days later that we realized we beat a good team.”
The Pioneers won 14 games by more than one goal and beat five teams they had lost to in the 2011 season. They scored 73 goals while only allowing 14, with goalie Maria Paparella ’16 posting nine clean sheets.
“I can’t remember ever having a team that scored 73 goals,” DiBiase said. “And the job Maria did as a freshman, filling in after Maggie Olson ’15 was injured, was excellent. Her receiving that kind of experience will go a long way next season.
“A lot of the time it was hard to tell just how good we were. We are unstoppable on turf because we are able to use the wider field to take advantage of our speed and the spacing to make better passes. “
The team was led by senior co-captain Waldeck, who earned a Gold Medal – the school’s highest athletic honor – and was named the team’s Most Valuable Player for the second consecutive year. She finished her WRA career with a school-record 111 goals.
“The only teams that were able to stop Nicky on her way to 43 goals were the ones who could stop her teammates from getting her the ball in the front of the net,” DiBiase said. “Nicky would be quick to tell you that her success this year came from a tremendous team effort, leaving out the part where she seemed able to elevate the game of those around her. Nicky also ended up as the unofficial leading goal scorer in the state.”
Samantha Mills ’15 earned the Most Improved Player award.
“Sam is among the most coachable players I have ever worked with,” DiBiase said. “After the first game she started last year, I told her that she needed to make some changes if she wanted to stay on the field. Done. This year, I pulled her aside and suggested ways to take her game to the next level. Done. We happily give this award to Sam, knowing that she is just getting warmed up.”
The Coaches/Spirit award was presented to senior co-captain Audrey Brown ’13.
“It was a difficult year for Audrey, sitting out with an illness, trying to be an effective captain from the bench, coming back slowly, and questioning her effectiveness when asked to fill numerous positions,” DiBiase said. “But when it counted, Audrey was there. I thought she was at her best preserving our biggest win of the season at CVCA. Her experience and competitiveness were truly inspirational.”
The Pioneers’ success was built on a team effort that blended younger players with the core group of seniors that included Virginia Carter, Andie DiBiase, Pauline Van Dijck and Lindsey Wirtz.
“One player doesn’t give you a 15-win season,” DiBiase said. “Beyond our six seniors, we had juniors Maggie Wise and Riley Nelsen and sophomores Zoe McCormick, Hannah McKenzie and Sam Mills that played at a really high level this season.
“Zoe was phenomenal this year, scoring eight goals and handing out seven assists as she earned First Team All-District honors. There isn’t anything she can’t do, and her emergence as a feature player made a big difference in the flow of the game.
“The offense also got a big boost from Virginia and Pauline, who led the team with seven assists and scored nine goals.”
The season also saw DiBiase reach two coaching milestones as he earned his 100th win as WRA coach and 200th win in his career. He was named the Tri-County League Coach of the Year as well as the Ohio Private/Parochial School Coach of the Year (the second year in a row he has earned that honor).
“That was a tribute to how we played this year,” DiBiase said. “We have a group of coaches in the Tri-County League that enjoy working with each other, and it is an honor because it reflects how the schools that are closest to us feel about playing us.
“With some great private and parochial schools in the area, it is a real honor to have your colleagues affirm what you do. But it all comes back to how our team presents itself on the field. When the other coaches talk about how they like the way we play – even if they lose – it is quite a tribute.
“The impact Charry Morris has had also can’t be overlooked. She has been more than an assistant coach and does more than just teach soccer to the girls. Having Nate Stifler ’09 as an assistant coach who also ran the junior varsity (which finished with a record 10 wins) was also a real asset.”
With the record-setting 2012 season now in the books, DiBiase is turning his attention to next year, when the Pioneers will have to replace six senior starters.
“Even though we are losing those starters we will be very good next year,” he said. “The competition for varsity spots is going to be pretty stiff because we had 26 players appear in at least one varsity game this year.
“If we can score some goals next season, we will be very good.”
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