BERRYVILLE – A state football championship at Clarke County High School just won’t cut it in 2022.
The Eagles girls’ soccer team won their first state title since 2006 with an unbeaten season in 2021, and Clarke County has outplayed its nine opponents 61-3 to repeat this year.
The Clarke County boys felt good enough to win their own state title last June, but an unbeaten season ended in a Class 2 semifinal loss to Nandua. After nine games in 2022, it’s hard to imagine what it would take to stop a determined side who don’t even know their true potential due to injuries.
In a game that lasted just 32 minutes, Clarke County defeated Mountain View 6-0 at Wilbur M. Feltner Stadium on Tuesday night, improving to 9-0 overall and 8-0 at the Bull Run District.
The Eagles — who lost just three seniors from last year’s team, are bringing back nine All-Region players and boast some talented freshmen — have yet to concede a goal this season and have beaten their opponents 55-0. Clarke County ended a season win against the Generals (4-7, 2-7), defeating them 9-0 on March 25.
“The girls’ win last year gave us real hope of winning this year,” said Eagles senior Jesus Ramirez, a returning starting center back. “When we saw them win it we were excited but we were also torn inside because we knew we could have played on the same day [in the state championship game] and that’s how they played.”
Junior forward Chris LeBlanc — the team’s top returning points-scorer (15 goals, eight assists in 2021) — scored twice in his fourth game Tuesday from injury.
“We were really looking forward to winning States this year,” said LeBlanc, who scored from outside the 18 to make it 2-0 and a penalty after a handball to make it 5-0 in after a failed Mountain View equalizer in the eighth minute the 25th minute. “All season we had fun but we also had the intensity there. We’re just trying to make it a good season and I really want to get that state ring.
The reason Tuesday night’s game ended so early was largely due to a lower body injury suffered by Generals senior forward Brayden Dove. After Dove fired Mountain View’s first shot of the game, Clarke County goaltender Kyler Darlington collided with Dove as he slipped to save after coming off his line. After Darlington struggled to stop another Mountain View player’s rebound with his right hip, play was halted when officials determined Dove’s injury was significant.
An ambulance was called, causing a nearly 30-minute delay while Dove received treatment. Dove was carried away sitting on a stretcher. With Mountain View (4-7, 2-7) only having 11 healthy players available Tuesday and would be down a man without Dove, the decision was made to end the game at that point.
Before that, it was a usual success for Clarke County. The Eagles took the first 20 shots of the game and had seven corners. On two of those corners, veteran midfielder and newcomer Menes Ajyeman sent passes across the floor from the right corner, aimed around 10-12 meters from goal in the near post area. Senior full-back Colin Moran sent both passes into the net on his first touch.
It was a dominant performance from a team that was nowhere near full strength. Leading scorer and senior Caleb Neiman (15 goals), junior forward Oakley Staples (two goals, four assists; six goals and 17 assists last year); and junior forward Leo Morris (five goals, two assists this year; four goals, 13 assists last year) have been sidelined due to various ailments.
No matter who’s on the field, Clarke County has managed to make it work.
“[The focus] was really good,” said Eagles coach Patrick Casey. “The start of this year could not have been better. They worked really hard in preseason to be fit and ready to come out. They really focused on the practice and did the work that we need to do.
“And they understand that last year was good, but this year it will be more difficult to go back to where we should be taking the next step.”
Casey said he really likes how his team moves the ball and plays selflessly.
“We have guys who do selfless runs when they know they won’t get the ball to open up space runs for other guys,” Casey said.
Nobody has provided more goals for his teammates than Ayjeman (team-best 13 assists over eight goals). Casey said Ayjeman had previously focused on club football and said the 16-year-old could be a sophomore but he skipped two grades.
“Menes is special,” Casey said. “We are very happy that he is playing with us this year. He has integrated directly into the group and takes us to another level.
“He has a really good relationship with our midfielder Charlie [Frame] and [freshman] Brody [Murphy] and selects the runs from our front three [forwards]. He’s just making sure he’s putting the ball in the right spot and the frontmen are now doing the rest.”
Ajyeman certainly knew where to place the ball on both of his corners to Moran. The first scored the opening goal in the fourth minute and the second made it 4-0 in the 20th minute.
“They dialed in and talked about it beforehand and saw that there was an opportunity there and I was pleased that they were both able to execute,” Casey said.
Led by Ramirez and centerback and returning starter Joe Ziercher, the Eagles’ defense has put in the best possible performance with nine straight shutouts. Darlington, a junior, has been in goal in every game and was not tested until he made his two brilliant saves on Tuesday.
“It’s just communication,” Ramirez said. “Communication is key. You have to practice how you want to play. We just keep a good line with our entire defensive line and keep it in shape.
Casey said the team’s shutout streak really is an overall team effort.
“I think it’s a byproduct of what we’re doing in the rest of the field,” Casey said. “We’ve focused this year on controlling games and not just trying to score as many goals as possible.”
Clarke County has been great this year, but the potential for what the Eagles could be is intriguing to say the least. If Clarke County — which also has one of its returning All-Region 2B drafts, Harim Torres (four goals, five assists last year), made his debut Tuesday from injury — everyone can get healthy and back to their regular rhythms at the same time , the rest of class 2 better be up to date.
“To know that people are out there and we’re still playing well is really exciting,” LeBlanc said.
“I don’t think we started our strongest 11 this year, but right now it might be hard to say what our strongest 11 is because we have so many people stepping up and contributing,” Casey said. “I think everyone deserves a chance to cement their place on the team and we will give it to them.”
Clarke County also received goals from Cal Beckett on a shot from outside the 18 after an assist from Caden Mercer and Emmet Morris from close range from a Jackson Ellis cross. Mountain View goaltender Alvaro Tapia made five saves.
The Eagles are next in action Thursday in Madison County.