Without Dion, South Tahoe girls soccer still finds a way
HENDERSON, Nev. — The South Tahoe girls soccer team lost its most productive offensive player and one of its most experienced leaders just prior to the start of the postseason — but didn’t lose its way. After forward Jordyn Dion suffered a season-ending knee injury, the Vikings regrouped to defend their Div. I-A state championship and win a fourth title in five seasons.
“It is a great group of girls, and they had resilience in that people had to accept new roles and do different things when Jordyn went out,” South Tahoe head coach Jeremy Evans said. “People knew that, but they weren’t quite sure how it was going to happen.”
Dion provided support from the sidelines during each of South Tahoe’s postseason matches — and it wasn’t a question whether she would make the trip with her teammates to Henderson. Evans said her continued involvement with the team was important.
“It can be a challenge, but for Jordyn it wasn’t — she wanted to be there the whole time,” Evans said. “The first few days after the injury she didn’t want to come to practice because she was too emotional — but she started to come out and the girls needed her there.
“She’s kind of a jokester and she is symbolic of South Tahoe soccer in many ways — not having her there wouldn’t have been a good thing.”
Dion finished with a team-high 56 points — 18 goals and 20 assists — in 20 matches this season. The same competitiveness and drive that made her a dominant force on the pitch translated well to the sidelines during the postseason.
“She provided good input — she reads the game and she is very smart,” Evans said. “She was still an intense competitor on the sidelines, and the other girls fed off that and understood how important it was to a senior. It was a big help.”
South Tahoe faced its first test without Dion in the Div. I-A Northern Region tournament Nov. 7-8 — and was sent back to the drawing board after losing in the regional championship. In those two matches, Evans put players in different spots with an emphasis on attack in an effort to replace Dion’s production — and it ultimately didn’t work out.
In the week leading up to the state tournament, South Tahoe tried out a handful of different formations — but ultimately returned to what had worked the entire season. The Vikings went into the state tournament in their standard 4-2-3-1 formation with forward Alejandra Gutierrez as the lone striker up front.
“I did feel like the 4-2-3-1 has really been our M.O. the whole season and we played it well — we just had to plug in the right person,” Evans said. “It was about getting players back to their natural positions.”
In terms of production, attacking midfielder Grace Schouten filled a needed void — and in the process delivered a pair of performances that will go down in South Tahoe lore. Schouten scored both of the Vikings’ goals in their 2-1 win over Faith Lutheran in the state semifinals on Friday, and found the back of the net again in the first half of the state championship to tie the match after STHS fell behind early.
“Really it paid off because of Grace — it was the best she ever played in a South Tahoe uniform, and I think she rose to the occasion,” Evans said. “I challenged her a little bit against Truckee — I took her out in the first half and I told her that without Jordyn it had to come from her.
“Grace’s performance this past weekend was legendary.”
Gutierrez replaced Dion in the formation and provided a physical presence in the attack during both state tournament games. She played most of the minutes on Friday and split time with seniors Maia Bickert and Carli Valney in the Vikings’ 3-2 state championship victory over Sierra Vista on Saturday.
“She’s the only really true forward, back-to-the-goal type player,” Evans said. “We went with her both days, and she played really well.”
South Tahoe’s state tournament tactics also included solidifying its defense by moving Ally King to left back. King lined up opposite right back Molly Jaggard and alongside center backs Jensen Smith and Zoe D’Angelo, providing experience and quality in defense.
“That pretty much locked down the defense. I figured if we couldn’t get scored on and we locked down defensively, we would really only need one or two goals to win.” Evans said. “I subbed the back line more than I ever have — but I just felt that had to be done.”
As captains along with Dion, Smith and King led South Tahoe from the back line in its two state tournament wins. The senior duo provided leadership the Vikings sorely lacked during the regional tournament the weekend before.
“The key was their calming influence on the back line — it kind of settled people down and gave everybody else the confidence to play the way we wanted to play,” Evans said. “Jensen stepped up and took more of the organizer role — a more vocal role — where Ally just kind of let her play do the talking.
“The girls looked to those two players, and they definitely filled that void.”
As South Tahoe celebrated forward Annie Brejc’s game-winning goal in overtime that delivered back-to-back state championships, Dion was there with her teammates soaking up the moment. The Vikings took the field without Dion — but didn’t capture the state crown without her.
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