It was one of those seasons in 2013 for the Western Reserve Academy girls soccer squad, one that the team did not want to see end.
The Pioneers closed out the year unbeaten in 10 of their last 11 matches and went undefeated in the Tri-County League to earn the team’s second consecutive league championship.
“We lost six senior starters from last year’s team and early on we were still figuring out the best place to put some of the players,” coach Joe DiBiase said. “More importantly, we also had to figure out how to create some offense. But so many of our players improved so much during the year and that helped us defeat CVCA, 1-0, to earn our second consecutive league title.”
The team also had to find its way without one of its best players, tri-captain Zoe McCormick ’15, for the first five games of the season, a stretch that saw the Pioneers go just 1-3-1. But McCormick’s absence allowed other players the opportunity to step up and, once the full squad was available, the team took off.
“We moved Anna McArn ’16 to the back and that made a huge difference for us defensively. Once she found a home there she had an outstanding season,” DiBiase said. “Maria Paparella ’16 had a few rough outings early on in goal, but during the second half of the season she had the look of an experienced goalkeeper and it is nice to know that we have her in goal for two more seasons.
“Our senior captains, Maggie Wise and Rylee Nelsen, deserve a lot of credit for keeping things positive through the early part of the season. Their ability to keep the waters calm until we got things figured out was something I do not take for granted. Because of them, this team had a sense of urgency without an accompanying sense of frustration.”
McCormick earned Most Valuable Player honors.
“Zoe is probably the smartest player we have had in my 12 years here as coach,” DiBiase said. “She is definitely the best defender we have had, the best at finishing a goal with her head, the best playmaker, and among a very short list of players who make those around her better.”
The Most Improved Player award was presented to Nelsen.
“Rylee did not really have a starting position until this year, but she often found herself needed for big minutes, leadership and even an offensive punch,” DiBiase said. “Rylee led by deed and word and, as a fixture in the midfield, she was always ready to play a full game if needed.”
Wise was named the Coaches/Spirit Award winner.
“We’ve gotten used to Maggie outworking everyone almost every day,” DiBiase said. “She started her career as a forward, moved to defense and finally ended up as a midfielder. The truth is, Maggie tends to play several positions at once, flying up and down the field and displaying incredible fitness.”
Several players earned additional postseason awards.
McCormick was named to the All-Ohio second team (only the third WRA player to ever be named to the All-Ohio squad), and was selected as a first-team member of the All-District Greater Akron team. Wise was named a second-team member of the All-District team.
Earning All-Tri County League honors were first-team members McCormick and Wise, second-team members Nelsen and Paparella, and honorable mention selections McArn and Samantha Haseltine ’15.
With 16 returning letter winners, including 11 seniors, on next year’s squad, DiBiase is looking to continue the success the Pioneers had over the final 11 games of this season.
“We have such a terrific group of kids on the team,” he said. “Zoe and Samantha were chosen as next year’s captains from a long list of qualified candidates, and we will also get a lot of leadership from our other seniors. We are anticipating a strong season for next year.”