Aleana Balistreri thinks back to the first year of her Grain Valley High School girls soccer team and grins.

Aleana Balistreri thinks back to the first year of her Grain Valley High School girls soccer team and grins.

“That seems like such a long time ago,” said Balistreri, who has built the program into an area Class 2 contender.

“Four years ago, when we started, we had good athletes, but we didn’t have many soccer players. The atmosphere around her has changed. And the practices have really changed.”

She no longer has to introduce players to Grain Valley Soccer 101.

“They come into the program ready to go – they’re already soccer players,” said Balistreri, whose Eagles are 11-6 overall and 4-0 in Missouri River Valley Conference play.

Earlier this week they claimed a big 2-0 win over Raytown South, a Class 3 program.

“We love to play up, and see what the competition is like in the larger classes,” said Balistreri, a former Blue Springs High School standout said. “The program has grown and developed so much – especially the last couple of years – that we’re ready for any challenge.”

They recently returned from Sedalia, where the Eagles lost three games to larger programs, and Balistreri said the experience far surpassed the opportunity for victories.

“We’d have like to have beaten a strong program and team like Ray-Pec,” she said, “but because we play those bigger schools, we can go out and get a 2-0 victory over a team like Raytown South.”

Cory Hampton has been a member of the soccer program for three years, and like her coach, she said the atmosphere surrounding the team has changed.

“It’s so much different than it was three years ago,” said Hampton, a junior defender. “The first year, we didn’t care about winning or losing, we were just having fun and trying to learn the game.

“Now, it’s all about winning. We think we can beat any team we play, and that feeling is so much better and so different than it used to be.”

Forward Devan Fairfield is a sophomore who never thought she would be able to play soccer at Grain Valley High School.

“I played when I was young, like so many girls do, but I gave it up because I knew they didn’t have it at the high school,” Fairfield said. “Then, I heard we were going to get soccer so I started playing again – and I’m really glad I did because we have some great players on the team.”

Hampton backs that statement, adding, “There aren’t any players here from my first year, now, we have all these young players like Devan and they’re so good. And so is our team.”

Balistreri learned much about soccer from one of the most respected coaches in the state, Blue Springs’ Doug McLagan, who also serves as an assistant for the Missouri Comets of the Major Indoor Soccer League.

“Our drills, a lot of the things we do in practice, I got from Doug,” Balistreri said. “I learned so much from him and had such a good time playing at Blue Springs. Our approach to the game, our basic soccer knowledge, a lot of that comes from playing for Doug.”

Now, with the program in its fourth year, Balistreri hopes to see more youth teams and soccer clubs forming to build a feeder system for her Eagles.

“That’s how you make programs successful,” Balistreri said. “You get the young players who know all the basics, and you begin working with them on the more advanced drills. We’ve been able to do that and it’s been very successful.”