This was not Desert Vista girls soccer as the players had come to know it.
The senior captains sensed that a spark was needed after their experienced team, with their usual state-championship aspirations, opened 2-3-1 in their first six games. They were shut out in all three losses, in which they gave up two or more goals.
Without having to verbalize it, the returning starters buckled down and played with more passion -- and suddenly they were hoisting the AZ Soccer Showcase championship trophy with four wins in five days that improved their mark to 7-3-1.
After that rocky start, the Thunder seem to have found themselves.
Senior Megan Brouse said only four new players were added to the varsity this season, so the girls had experience playing together. However, because many played for different clubs and then were expected to play new roles and positions for the Thunder, team chemistry was off initially.
“We were having trouble figuring out what lineup worked the best, so we kept trying different ones until we found one that worked well,” Brouse said.
The result was a 16-2 goal difference in the four games of the Showcase during the holiday break, including wins of 3-0 over Hamilton, which defeated the Thunder 1-0 in last year’s playoff quarterfinal, and 2-0 over Chaparral, which had defeated them 3-0 less than a month earlier.
“We all had it in mind, where we all wanted to go out and win that tournament. You could tell we were thinking about it, but nobody actually talked about it,” Brouse said.
Senior Bri Herman added, “I think it was definitely a big win, and kind of gives us hope for the future.”
With the lineup finally set, Thunder coach Marvin Hypolite no longer had to tinker with the roster. The team could focus on strengthening its technical play.
Desert Vista plays a possession-heavy, fast style, in which play develops from its strong defensive line. Wingers and forwards can make fast runs on the ball, using efficient passing from the midfield to create chances on goal.
“We focus a lot on midfield and how we transition, and that’s how we can play a high-flying style. And then, defending from the back has been one of our major strengths for years. It makes that style of play easier,” Hypolite said.
“I believe (the Showcase) increased our confidence, and we saw the results with a lot more goals and better play as a team.”
He said the girls played with significantly more certainty and decisiveness in practices following the Showcase, and the Thunder blew out section-rival Boulder Creek, 6-0, to open 2019.
More importantly, the girls grew closer with more time together on the practice pitch. While the players claim interpersonal relationships were a weakness early, the captains claim the bonds the players have formed will be a major advantage down the stretch.
“I think our biggest strength is our team chemistry. It keeps getting stronger, and you can see it in our play,” Herman said.
With their record over .500 heading into 6A Central section play, the Thunder’s goal is to not let up.
Starting with the captains, Desert Vista must work to fight complacency in order to capture the state title that has eluded it since 2016.
“When you start to win more, it can be easy to not try as hard in practice or relax a little bit. We know we can’t do that,” Herman said. “In practice, we’re working to keep getting better and try to be the best in the state.”