It might have been their first league title in a long time but it was hardly a surprise. The 2010 team finished second in the league and qualified for the playoffs, losing to San Ramon Valley 3-1 in the first round – a turning point for Deer Valley, which lost only two players from the 2010 team.
“Last year we had the quality to beat teams, but the chemistry would sometimes fall apart in the last few minutes of the games,” said senior defender Logan Wilkins. “We had a lot of ties and losses last year that were due to inconsistency.”
According to head coach Nick Howliston, last season’s strong showing laid the foundation for this season’s league championship. The returning players knew the system well and passed that knowledge along to the new players.
Howliston also identified the defense as a prime reason for the team’s success. The Wolverines are anchored by senior Mike Ortlieb, the reigning BVAL co-defensive MVP.
For the second year in a row, the team was led offensively by senior forward Aaron Huang. As a junior, Huang netted 15 goals; this season, his tally increased to 18. His coach pointed out that in addition to a strong aerial attack, Huang’s striking range is exceptional for a high school player, making him a threat to score any time he takes control of the ball.
“My movement of the ball – I anticipate where to move, where to position myself,” said Huang. “The communication of the team is strong; the bonding. I like the way that we move the ball around when we play.”
Although Deer Valley and Pittsburg are the only playoff qualifiers from the BVAL, the league was competitive, every team notching at least two wins. Outside of league play, the Wolverines dropped only two games. The first was to a non-NCS team, the second was a 4-2 loss at the hands of Newark Memorial, which is seeded just ahead of Deer Valley.
Within a few weeks, several Wolverine players will sign their letters of intent to play in college next year. Despite being a senior-laden team, the Wolverines’ departing seniors feel that the team will be left in good hands: a good coach in Howliston and a strong group of underclassmen and junior varsity players.
“I think it’s left with a solid skeleton,” said Ortlieb. “I don’t know who will fill in where, but with that strong skeleton, I see them getting back to NCS.”
The Wolverines began their playoff run at home against Richmond on Wednesday, Feb. 16. Should they keep winning, the No. 3 seed guarantees them at least two home games.
“The way we’re playing, I think we have a good chance at winning and moving on,” said Howliston, who has coached at Deer Valley since 2006. “But you never know. It’s all a lottery; it’s like a new season is just starting.”