Veteran Raena Childers leads young Grain Valley team into girls soccer state quarterfinal
Tyler Nichol, the coach of the Grain Valley girls soccer team, is enjoying the best of all worlds.
Senior midfielder Raena Childers, who is always the target of multiple opposing defenders, has scored an incredible school record 106 goals in just three seasons.
Freshman forwards Emma Thiessen and Annabelle Totta have developed into "baby boomers" – newcomers who always seem to find the back of the net with their booming goals and offensive presence.
Childers leads the 20-2-1 Eagles with 55 goals this season while Thiessen (27 goals, 22 assists) and Totta (15,18) are second and third on the scoring chart.
Their presence could pose a problem for Platte County, which visits Grain Valley at 3 p.m. Saturday for a Class 3 state quarterfinal game that will determine who will advance to the state final four.
And with the always cool, calm and collected Camihle Williams in goal, the Eagles are confident they can stand toe to toe with the 24-2 Pirates, who edged Van Horn 3-2 to advance to the Saturday contest at Grain Valley.
The Eagles survived a constant downpour and a strong Camdenton team to beat the Lakers 3-0 in sectional play with Thiessen and Totta scoring the first two goals while Williams starred in the net.
"Our game at Camdenton was bad, but good," Thiessen said, grinning. "The weather was bad, but we were good and we won our biggest game of the season. Now, we hope we can do it again Saturday."
Thiessen, who also plays varsity tennis and basketball, said the large group of freshman standouts will never be fearful of an opponent, and that intimidation is simply out of the question.
"We respect everyone we play, but we're not afraid of anyone – that's pretty much how we've been on every team we've played on since the fourth or fifth grade," Thiessen explained. "We're all young, but we've played soccer for a long time, and most of us have been on the same team for a long time.
"Raena is our leader. We all love her and look up to her, and I know she respects us as much as we do her."
Childers, who missed practice Tuesday because of graduation at Cable Dahmer Arena, said her enthusiastic young teammates are making this an extra special season.
"I love my teammates and I am very, very, very proud of all of them," said Childers, who has signed to play at Kansas. "Our freshmen and sophomores – all my teammates – are amazing. I don't think any of us knew what to expect this season and now, we're a win away from going to state.
"Going to state! That is so cool, so unbelievable! And look who scored our goals against Camdenton – three freshmen. I don't know if Emma, Annabelle and Kylee (Bragaw) will score bigger goals, and Camihle did what Camihle does. She got a shutout to help us win."
Totta said the underclassmen, especially the group of freshmen, have formed a special bond that transcends the game.
"We're close when we play and we do a lot of things together away from games and practice," Totta said. "We're young and we're having fun, but we know that we have to keep performing well to keep this season going – and we want to keep it going for Raena and the girls who missed last season."
Williams, a sophomore, backed that comment.
"We have all these amazing freshmen, but this is like my freshman year because I missed last season because of the pandemic," Williams said. "I know how hurt my teammates and I were last year when we weren't able to play, and we're playing for everyone who has ever been an Eagle. We're just a big family!"
A family that means so much to Nichol, whose Eagles have won eight consecutive district titles but have only reached the state quarterfinals for the second time this year and have never reached the final four.
"The last time we played in the quarterfinals (2016), we lost to (Notre Dame de) Sion," Nichol said. "We've had a lot of success and had some great teams, and this year's team is special.
"We have the mother hen, Raena, who watches over the younger players like they were her children – and she scores three goals while she's doing it. We have the young kids like Emma and Anabelle who are so capable of scoring big goals. And I want to be sure to point out that everyone on our team has played a significant role in this season.
"We were all so excited just to play this year because of what happened last year, and now, we're a win away from going to the final four. We know a lot about Platte County –we've been scouting them.”
The Eagles opened the season in the Platte County Invitational, winning it, but did not play the host Pirates in that tournament. Platte County lost 2-0 to Staley in the semifinals of that tourney before Grain Valley beat Staley 5-2 in the championship. Still, the Eagles are not taking a team that has won eight straight lightly.
"They are such a great defensive team, with a great goalie (Avery Krahenbill, who made seven saves against Van Horn, including two sensational diving stopes from close range) and they have the mindset that if they score a goal, they're going to win,” Nichol said of the Pirates.
"And they're 24-2, and you can't argue with that. So we need to get our offense going, and keep it going the entire game. … We are young, but our young girls have played for so many years it's like they are young, veteran players.
"They are not intimidated. They know what a great team Platte County is, and we respect Platte County, but we've had a lot of success, too, and we're ready for Saturday's game."