The Grain Valley girls soccer team has been a threat to go deep in the playoffs for the past few years.
In fact, the Eagles have won a district championship five years in a row but have continued to hit a speed bump in either the state sectional round or quarterfinals.
The Class 3 girls bracket is continually loaded year after year, and to make the state final four, any team in the Kansas City area usually has to go through powerhouse Notre Dame de Sion to make it.
This could be the year that Grain Valley finally does as it returns nine starters from last year’s 19-5 team, including first-team all-state midfielder Rylan Childers.
However, thanks to the Sporting Kansas City Academy joining the U.S. Soccer Federation, those on club teams in that academy can’t also play high school, due to it being a year-long commitment. And that affected Grain Valley’s roster as sophomore Avery Brady, who was second on the team with 24 goals last season, will be playing for Sporting Kansas City only.
But according to Eagles head coach Tyler Nichol, he has a few players who can fill the void left by Brady.
“We will start six or seven seniors. We have 15 seniors on the team,” Nichol said. “We have a lot of experience and we have some good, technical players who are consistent. We have many girls with a high soccer IQ.”
Childers returns and will switch between playing forward and midfield. Last year, she helped power the Eagle offense with a school-record 38 goals and 32 assists for an offense that averaged 5.1 points per game.
“Great player and her stats prove that she’s up there with the best in the state,” Nichol said of Childers, who has signed to join her sister Reighan at UMKC. “She’s a good kid. She takes that leadership role naturally and she cares about our younger players.”
Joining her in the midfield will be Marissa Schmidt, a second-team all-state selection who had a 14 goals and 14 assists last season. Like Nichol, Childers and Schmidt like the way the team is looking so far.
“This team has a lot of potential,” Childers said. “Our girls are working hard. No matter who we play, we are going to try our best to give them a hard-fought game.”
Added Schmidt: “We have a lot of depth, so that’s going to help us in the long run.”
Senior Kailey Boyer will assist in the goal scoring department at forward, as will senior Maddie Knust in the midfield. Senior Cortnee Barnett will also play an important role in the midfield, and freshman Renna Childers figures to factor into the Grain Valley offense like her older sister.
“Kailey has scored quite a bit in her three years here,” Nichol said. “Obviously, Rylan scores a ton and Renna will be in that mixture. Kailey Larson is a sophomore and Sophie Brookard will be in there as well. We got a good mix of scorers.”
On defense, Ashlyn Welsh, Abby Berg and Kierra Arndorfer lead the back line, while sophomore Raegan Beeding returns as the team’s starting goalkeeper.
“Our weakness last year was on defense,” Nichol said. “I thought we gave up too many goals. We are definitely looking to shore that up.”
The Eagles have most of the week to do that before they begin the regular season with a game at Warrensburg Friday. They then travel Saturday to the Platte County Invitational, where they could face some of Kansas City’s top teams including Liberty North and Blue Springs South, which Nichol said will be a good early-season test for a team that has set its goals high.
“These girls have some pretty ambitious goals.” Nichol said. “We start the tournament against Liberty North. We are pretty equal with them. Then we might meet Blue Springs South in the championship. That will be a challenge. They still have a lot of talent.”