Warriors Appreciated Competing in the Postseason
After missing out on postseason play last year, the athletes on the Valley Regional boys’ soccer team wanted nothing more than to get an opportunity to compete in the playoffs this fall. The Warriors took their chance and ran with it by notching 13 victories in a season that saw the team advance to the quarterfinals of the Class S State Tournament.
Valley finished with an overall record of 13-6-1 for the 2021 campaign, qualifying for both Shorelines and states. Head Coach Mick Fearon, who completed his 20th year at the helm of the Warriors, felt that Valley had a successful season all the way around.
“I think it was a good season. Like most teams, you always like to go a little further, but overall, it was a good season,” Coach Fearon said. “We played really good soccer at times. The kids implemented things that we wanted, like playing with pressure on the ball and moving the ball around, and that was good to see.”
Valley was coming off of a solid 2020 season in which it went 7-3, although the Warriors were unable to participate in the playoffs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, Valley played a complete regular-season schedule and posted an overall mark of 11-4-1, including a record of 9-1-1 in games that counted toward the Shoreline Conference standings. Coach Fearon noted the Warriors’ 1-0 road win versus Morgan on Sept. 20 and a 3-1 home victory against East Hampton on Oct. 12 as highlights for his team during the regular season.
As the No. 2 seed in the Shoreline Conference Tournament, Valley had a bye through the first round and faced No. 3 seed Morgan in a semifinal contest. The Warriors took a 5-1 loss against the Huskies, who went on to share the conference title with Old Saybrook after playing the Rams to a 1-1 tie in the final.
Following Shorelines, Valley entered the Class S State Tournament as the No. 10 seed and won its first two games in the draw to make it to the quarterfinals. The Warriors claimed a 5-0 win over No. 23 seed Terryville in first-round action and then recorded a 6-1 victory versus No. 26 seed Hale-Ray in the second round. Valley’s run came to an end in the quarters with a 4-3 overtime loss to 2nd-seeded Old Saybrook, which wound up winning the Class S title.
Coach Fearon said that it meant a lot for his squad to play soccer under the postseason spotlight this year, especially since the Warriors were denied that opportunity in 2020.
“We were looking forward to the tournaments. When you get to Shorelines and states, that is what everybody remembers—how you do in those tournaments,” said Fearon. “Tournament play is always so exciting, and the coaches and the players look forward to it. When you get to states, you get a chance to measure yourself against different leagues. It’s always good for the boys.”
Midfielder Tucker Burr led Valley as a senior captain this year, while senior forward/midfielder Jake Burdick served as a vice captain for the Warriors. Burr scored 9 goals to go with 8 assists on his way to making both the All-Shoreline Conference First Team and the Class S All-State Team for the second year in a row. Burr represented the Warriors by playing in the Senior Bowl and was also presented with a scholarship from the Valley Soccer Club.
“Tucker was one of our most vocal players on the field and someone the other players looked up to. It was always a bonus to have someone on the field keeping the spirits up,” Coach Fearon said. “He had a good year last year and another great year this year.”
Burdick netted 23 goals and dished out 12 assists for Valley this season. Burdick was named the Shoreline Conference Player of the Year to go with his second-straight selection to the All-Shoreline Conference First Team, the Class S All-State Team, and the All-New England Teams, along with a spot in the Senior Bowl. On top of these achievements, Burdick also earned All-American honors for his remarkable performance throughout the 2021 season.
“Jake was coming off of an ACL injury he got in February, so for him to have a season as he did coming back from that was really strong for him,” said Fearon. “In the time I’ve been coaching, the last player that made All-New England was Ryan Pomroy in 2012, so to have a player make it two years in a row is exceptional.”
Senior central defender Andrew Salbinski made the All-Shoreline Conference Second Team for Valley this year, marking his second-consecutive All-Conference selection. Salbinski also received the Coaches’ Award on behalf of the Warriors.
Senior Ian Silva completed his second year as Valley’s starting goalkeeper. Silva recorded four shutouts in net for the Warriors on the campaign.
Senior forward AJ DaRe was presented with Valley’s Sportsmanship Award. DaRe scored his first varsity goal in a 7-0 win at North Branford this season.
Valley’s senior class also included forward Jorga Lanza, who had 4 goals and 4 assists; center midfielder Simon Partyka, who had 1 goal with 5 assists; and defender Jackson Rock.
Junior central defender Samuel Hutchinson earned All-Shoreline Conference Second Team honors for Valley. Fellow junior Michael Kollmer also made the All-Shoreline Conference Second Team after scoring 6 goals to go with 14 assists as a forward.
Junior Jake McKenna, who played both striker and central midfielder, received All-Shoreline Conference Honorable Mention for the Warriors. McKenna scored 17 goals and also had 7 assists on the season.
Junior defender Benjamin Costanzo was named Valley’s Most Improved Player this year. Fellow junior defender Reed Beighau received the Warrior Award on behalf of Coach Fearon’s club.
Sophomore midfielder Deryck Llivichuzcha was promoted to the varsity ranks during the season and finished the year with 5 goals and 1 assist. Valley’s two other sophomores were forward Tyler Ruel, who had 2 goals with 2 assists; and fellow forward Lucas Silva.
Freshman defender Drew Delrouchry got some starts for Valley this fall. Freshman goalies Kenneth Batt and Cameron Costanzo also saw varsity time with Batt recording a shutout. The Warriors’ freshman class also featured forwards Jack McPherson, Caleb Winkley, Nathan Crown, and Tucker Norton, along with midfielder/defender Birch Whitbeck.
Coach Fearon’s coaching staff included varsity assistant Bryant Ziobran and JV coach Dan DeNegre, both of whom are Valley boys’ soccer alums. Coach Fearon also expressed thanks for the support of Agata Luff, head of the booster club for the program; Jeff Swan, Valley’s athletic coordinator; and Sheila Robida, the administrative assistant.
Fearon went on to thank senior Reese Whitney, who did the stats for the team; Connor McWade and Ian Lemley, two program alums who worked with the players during summer sessions; and Gyujin Kim, the new athletic trainer at Valley.
As he reflects upon the 2021 season, Coach Fearon hopes that his players, especially his seniors, appreciated every second that they spent on the pitch this year.
“Over the time that you spend with the seniors, it’s special to see how far they’ve come,” Fearon said. “It’s not always just the rigors of ‘Do this’ or ‘Do that.’ The game of soccer is to be enjoyed, and I hope the senior boys got to experience that.”