Things weren’t necessarily broken, and – at 7-2-1 overall heading into this week’s Dobson Mustang Classic soccer tournament – the defending state runner-up Desert Vista girls soccer team doesn’t necessarily have anything to exactly fix either.
But when Thunder embarked on a two-night group retreat to a cabin in Flagstaff last Saturday, there certainly was a purpose in mind.
“It might be the one thing that the girls absolutely wanted. “Not ‘Are we doing a retreat,’ it’s been ‘When are we doing it?’” Desert Vista head coach Paul Manoogian said.
Manoogian said the “girls-only” theme has given a perfect opportunity for assistant coach Jen Thronson, a 2005 Desert Vista graduate, to run the show for a few days and share some of the wisdom she’s carried over from her playing days with the Thunder and in college.
“We’ve done it almost every year. Every team I’ve been on has done kind of the same thing,” she said before the team’s departure up north, the weekend before Christmas.
While many teams who do retreats or team bonding experiences traditionally hold their events during the summer or just before the season starts, Thronson said the Desert Vista program has historically held its retreat mid-season, right at the onset of the students’ winter break.
“We try and do it right before region play starts, just because it’s a really good bonding tool – and everyone really gets to know each other,” Thronson said. “It seems like the past, at least the five years that I’ve been coaching, each team is a completely different team … different personalities.
“The seniors have made it that way I think,” she added, noting that the senior class traditionally sets the tone for a team’s on-field persona. “The chemistry is totally different from year-to-year … this helps figure that out.”
Thronson said that while soccer is still on the players’ minds a little bit, the trip isn’t as much a soccer trip as it is a unity trip.
“They’ll go on a run and train a little bit,” she said. “But we do a lot of activities and traditions that have been here since I was here, and before me, and I’ve incorporated some things that I’ve learned in college.”
Manoogian added: “They do team-building stuff, one group cooks this night, another does lunch this day. It’s really a well-organized thing.”
The program didn’t hold a retreat last season, but this year’s Desert Vista roster still has six players – current seniors Samantha Rall, Hannah Fadenrecht, Jana Steuber and Molly Clatanoff, along with juniors Mackenzie Semerad and Julia Waterhouse – who were on the 2007-08 team as freshmen and sophomores who have had the chance to experience the winter weekend out of town.
“The best part is being with the team, and not having to worry about practice and school and serious stuff. It’s great to just get to know everyone better,” Clatanoff said. “We do a lot of stuff where we’re grouped with people we don’t really know, as well.”
The retreat is so popular among Desert Vista players that it was briefly rumored that the Thunder might be willing to forfeit the championship match of the recent Tempe Diablos tournament to keep with the schedule of the retreat, after the Diablo title round was shifted back a week due to weather.
Thanks to some creative scheduling and teamwork with the Diablo tournament organizers and the Thunder’s opponent – unbeaten Gilbert Highland – the championship game was eventually scheduled for an early 10 a.m. start last Saturday at Mountain Pointe High School. Desert Vista ultimately fell to Highland, 2-1, after the Hawks scored the game-winner inside a minute to play in overtime. But the day was just getting started as parents hugged their girls goodbye in the Mountain Pointe parking lot and the DV team loaded into their cars.
“Normally we leave at 7 a.m. and drive right up there, Thronson said. “But it’s kind of a different situation this time.”