Verrado wraps up undefeated regular season
Lady Vipers earn No. 2 seed
For the third year in a row Verrado will enter the state tournament as one of the favorites, but this time the task of winning will be a little more difficult.
The Lady Vipers have lost by one goal in each of the past two Division III state semifinals, and this year they find themselves the No. 2 seed despite moving up to Division II.
“I’m excited,” coach David Hopkinson said. “To be at this position in Division II, if you would have told me before the year, ‘Hey, you’re going to win the section and get a home game,’ I would have went, ‘OK, I’ll take it.’ We’ve played some good teams, and hopefully we play well in the playoffs. It’ll be tough, but that’s what you play for.”
Verrado will host No. 15 Prescott in the opening round at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Verrado closed out the regular season Friday by whitewashing Surprise Shadow Ridge, 9-0. The Lady Vipers scored seven first-half goals in the victory, six of which came from different players.
“We scored so many goals in our first few games and then we lost a couple players [to injury] and really had some girls step up,” Hopkinson said. “Brynn [Holderbaum] has done well, she moved from defense to forward, you see what Kelly [Smith] can do. Really, the one advantage we have, and this has helped us in the past, we have a lot of athletes, and a lot of girls who can play all over. We’re hard to pin down on who you have to mark.”
Holderbaum had a hat trick Friday, scoring twice in the opening nine minutes and adding a third 7:18 into the second half.
“Brynn scored three tonight, but every game it’s somebody different that steps up,” Hopkinson said. “Sharing the wealth, that’s always kind of been my philosophy. We’ve had girls that can score 30 goals a season, but why? I don’t know if there’s a reason for that. Everybody wants those touches, everybody wants to get involved. That way, when someone does go down to an injury, someone else can fill that spot and we don’t miss a beat.”
Holderbaum’s first goal came off a deflection, as Sierra Smith crossed it into the penalty area and Jasmine Lhotka got her foot on it, but after the goalkeeper made the initial stop it deflected to Holderbaum, who knocked it in.
“I thought Jasmine was going to make it in, and my knee just happened to be there,” Holderbaum said.
She scored her second goal on a breakaway, tucking the ball into the left corner of the net.
Lhotka would get her goal in the 12th minute, breaking free from the Shadow Ridge defense and tapping it past the keeper as she came out to challenge.
Smith made it 4-0 after scoring on a nice through ball from Bri Subervi. Smith is usually a defender.
“I try to take advantage of the little time I get up top to score,” Smith said.
Kristen Miller, Taylor Desanti and Vanessa Russell all tallied in the final 20 minutes for Verrado, making it 7-0 at halftime.
Holderbaum earned her hat trick early in the second half, going just inside the right post with her breakaway opportunity this time. It was her second hat trick of the season, with the other one coming against El Mirage Dysart on Jan. 10.
“It’s nice to finish the regular season with a hat trick,” Holderbaum said.
Russell put the finishing touches on Verrado’s scoring with her second goal of the game, which came in the 59th minute.
“That was the big thing tonight, was finishing early,” Hopkinson said. “We know going into the playoffs the games are a lot more low scoring, you might only get a few chances and you’ve got to take advantage of that. We did that tonight.”
Although Verrado enters the playoffs as a high seed, Hopkinson knows it won’t be an easy task navigating through Division II. However, if the Lady Vipers have anything on their side, it’s experience in playing the big games the past two seasons.
“I just trying to prepare them as best I can mentally,” Hopkinson said. “Physically we’re pretty prepared. Mentally is the big thing, and not losing focus, not looking ahead. The last couple years we were one of the favorites to win the whole thing. Even with the high seed this year, there are so many good teams in Division II. One through 16 is going to be a battle.”
Verrado should be battle tested from this year as well, having played in the Arizona Soccer Showcase Tournament in late December. The Lady Vipers, who went 13-2 overall, lost their only two games of the season during that event.
“I hope that helps us, that’s why we played in it,” Hopkinson said. “We lost two games, lost to Flagstaff, which is below us in rankings [No. 6]. So that’s good because we can say we’re ranked 2, but this team beat us and they’re behind us. It keeps them focused I think, it was eye opening.”
Should Verrado be able to put a run together, it may earn that state title that has so closely eluded them the past two years.
“It’s a good group of girls, but it’s been that way ever since I’ve been here,” Hopkinson said. “They seem to like each other, winning helps, they get along, they have a good time, they come out to work. I think they want it. I think they know, kind of tasting bitter defeat two years in a row, hopefully that drives and motivates a few of them that have been around for that.”
Casey Pritchard can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.