AKRON – It’s something that has never been seen at Tippecanoe Valley. At least, on an official level.
Soccer has been played at Tippecanoe Valley for a couple years now, but the 2016 season will be the first-ever IHSAA sanctioned season at Valley. After playing as an exhibition club, Valley is set to begin its maiden voyage with a scrimmage on Aug. 13 against Whitko and its first-ever varsity match Aug. 18 at NorthWood. The home opener comes on Aug. 22 against Maconaquah.
As expected, starting a venture from the ground up has been a challenge, one that head coach Mark Gordon has been handling since the club began. Outfitted with over two-dozen boys and girls, sometimes pushing 40 kids, other times less, it’s been a week-to-week project Gordon has fused into a labor of love. But one he sees having staying power in a land where football and basketball are still king.
“It’s been a challenge,” began Gordon as he overlooked his team in drills. “We had a call-out earlier this year and only 14 kids came out. But at one juncture we had 36 signed up. So we have been blessed with the interest. A lot are freshmen coming in and over the summer we’ve had open fields, did indoor in the winter. As of today I have about 30 and potentially a few more than that who could still join us.”
The Valley team will be co-ed this season, and a girls team is likely a couple years away as concrete numbers to create the sister team isn’t there yet. Gordon, however, doesn’t view his girls as lesser members. In fact, one of his team captains is Alyssa Brito, who has taken the role of captain as a badge of honor.
“I can tell a big difference from the first two years we were playing here,” Brito said. “Practices are running a lot smoother. I am excited to get this year started and see where we have come since then.”
Valley has proven leading up to its season opener that it can compete, and won’t just be another already-drawn check mark on opponent’s calendars. Playing in a summer scrimmage against the FC Indiana women’s team, the two teams played to a nil-nil draw, including extra time and a shoot-out. Valley has shown well in its club seasons, and hopes the talents of members like Brito, Ivan Santiago and others can help some of the early-season nerves.
“We’re trying to grow the sport here,” Santiago said, who also plays basketball for Valley. “It’s going to take some time, but there is a foundation here now. We can maintain against teams this year, we have a lot of talented players.”
Gordon, while quietly confident his team will be fine, knows some soccer sensibilities may be rubbed as his team grows. Gordon, who is an IHSAA referee and coordinator, would love to dip into complex field strategy. That time likely won’t happen right away.
“We definitely have a group of kids who haven’t played before,” Gordon said. “Some don’t know more than just watching (soccer) on TV. They don’t know what shin guards are proper, how to do throw ins, what offsides is. It’s soccer 101 for 15, 16, 17-year-olds. It’s difficult. So we do spend a lot of time working on rules and the laws of the game.
“We’re trying to avoid deer in the headlights when they go out there. Have some understanding of the game and how it’s played.”
Tippecanoe Valley has its soccer complex ready to go. The varsity and JV fields are in place, planted behind the football stadium and the Bibler Pressbox is up with the observatory lined up for the Maconaquah match.