Vilonia Lady Eagles reach playoffs

by Mark Oliver

For the first time in school history, the Vilonia Lady Eagles Soccer Team is going to the 5A state playoffs.

“This is a huge step for our program,” said Lady Eagles coach Heather Gray. “This first playoff berth shows the hard work and dedication of the players and coaches that have been a part of the program over the past six years. We are setting a new standard for our program that we hope will continue to be attained in future seasons.”

The No. 3 seed Lady Eagles (8-9, 4-4 5A East) face off at 10 a.m. today (May 10) against White Hall at the Burns Park Soccer Complex.

“The girls are excited and looking forward to this opportunity,” Gray said. “This has been a lengthy season for the girls, but I believe it is paying off. I know the girls want to do their best.”

The playoff venture could be a fitting finish for five seniors: Jordan Daves, Elaine English, Michaela Johnson, Peyton Land and Kaitlyn Mikeal.

“This year, these seniors have been our enforcers,” Gray said. “The younger players look up to them and follow their example. All the players have played where the team needed them and battled through injuries and outside influences.”

Although reaching the playoffs completed a season-long goal for the Lady Eagles, a new goal exists for the team.

“We hope there will be more than just one playoff game,” Gray said. “I always tell the girls that soccer starts with your mental game and that your physical game flows from that. We have been working on drills for our touches and shooting in practices and need to stay focused on looking for the open part of the net and communicate on and off the field. We have also been mixing in some fun to keep the girls relaxed [to ease] some of the nerves flying around.”

Just six years into its program, Vilonia has been working hard to achieve success in soccer.

“The bar has been raised,” Gray said. “Our opponents no longer look at us with pity because we are a newer program. We have earned respect because we have made something out of our program. We have a handful of players who have played soccer as little kids in other cities, but most of the girls came into the program [with no experience].”

Vilonia attributes its team’s success to great communication and teamwork.

“Every game, [we have] new players step up and get the job done for us,” Gray said. “Our season is the way it is because of each player on our team pushing one another and giving their best. When the final whistle blows, they have left their heart and soul on the soccer field and they do it for one another.”