The Islanders girls soccer team graduated 15 players from last season’s team, but head coach James Valles isn’t going to be conservative, even if it’s a rebuilding year. Valles wants the Mercer Island girls soccer team to play an attacking and unpredictable style of soccer.
“If you can play with the ball as far away from your goal as possible, it’s a good thing,” Valles said. “I don’t plan to change that unless it proves to not work, but I’m adaptable. That’s what’s fun about coaching, you have to adapt to what the other teams in KingCo are showing you.”
While some coaches want to play it safe, Valles wants his players to be risk takers in the attacking third. Valles encourages his players to take on defenders, even if it could lead to a turnover.
“I really want to bring out their creativity,” Valles said. “I want to let them know it’s OK to try something different. Here on this field, it’s OK to make it your own. Add some spice to it.”
The Islanders may have a young team this year, but Valles said they have key players down the spine of the team. Junior attacking midfielder Emily Yang and senior center back Scarlett Counihan will be important players in the middle of the field. Senior goalkeeper Amy Braman, first-team all-3A KingCo in 2018, will be a leader for the Islanders.
“(Braman) is one of the best, if not the best goalkeeper in the state,” Valles said.
One of the challenges facing Valles is surrounding their veterans with younger, more inexperienced players. Two freshmen that Valles expects to make an impact right away for the Islanders are forwards Arden Paglia and Caeli Dornay.
This early in the season, Valles said he’s still getting to know his team, but he likes the energy and intensity they’ve showed. With so many new players, the coaches have a lot of teaching to do compared to last year.
“It’s exciting for the coaches because we actually have to coach soccer,” Valles said. “It’s exciting for the players because they’re learning something new.”
The Islanders made it all the way to the 3A state quarterfinals last year before losing in a shootout against Prairie. Even with a young team, playing for the Mercer Island girls soccer team comes with high expectations.
“We don’t want to set our expectations any lower,” Valles said. “We want to win KingCo. That’s what we want to do every year. We’re not going to ratchet that back.”
With plenty of big games on their schedule, Valles is looking forward to playing Liberty and Lake Washington, but most importantly Bellevue.