Sandusky Bay Conference Player of the Year, first-team North Central District and second-team All-Ohio in Division III--it was a fine season for Oak Harbor freshman Emma Barney.
In her first year with the varsity squad Barney, who was second on the team with 30 goals and first with 21 assists, was instrumental in leading the Rockets to the Final Four for the first time in the program’s history.
In five of the previous 10 seasons, Oak Harbor had advanced to the district final only to lose each time, but this year, the Rockets (19-2-1) got over the hump and won five games in the Div. III Tournament to make it to the state semifinals.
Along the way, Oak Harbor defeated Central Catholic (5-1), Swanton (2-0), Woodmore (5-0), Continental (3-0) and Liberty-Benton (2-1) before falling to Gates Mills Hawken, 4-1.
"I'm definitely really proud of my team because we proved people wrong (by getting to regionals),” Barney said. “We had never gotten past districts before and it was nice to have people coming out and supporting us.”
It was a great experience for the community, too, one that has seen few teams advance to the state semifinals in any sport. Oak Harbor has never had a team win a state championship, though the wrestling program has two second-place finishes (2008, '10), the boys’ basketball team was the runner up in 1983 and the football team advanced to the Final Four twice in '99 and '06.
“It was a magical run,” head coach Renee Goldstein said. “I know it sounds goofy, but that's what it was. It was like a dream. We had the town behind, the kids behind us, the community behind us, almost every SBC coach was at the game against Hawken. You think it's just your family and friends at Oak Harbor, but we had a lot of people (from the conference) there. You don't realize how many people are there sometimes because your backs are to the stands. My sister has never been to a soccer game in the 11 years that I've coached and she came. It was amazing — there are no words to describe it. I wish every coach would get this opportunity.”
But, obviously, with a superb team, it can’t be just a one-person show. Barney got plenty of help from her teammates, starting with goalkeeper Ivy Martin. The Rockets, who employed a 2-4-4 formation, started Paige Velliquette (33 goals) and Alexa Weis (17 goals) at forward with Barney, Ally Croy, Amanda Hetrick and Emily Winters (9 goals) at midfield. And perhaps the players who were most instrumental in leading the Rockets to their dream season were the defenders, Karis DeWalt, Hannah Hess, Maddie Rathbun and Noelle Petersen.
The reserves were critical to the team’s success as well. Mackenzie Auger (10 goals), Nikki Weis, Brittany Watkins, Emily Kamann, Addie Barton, Tessa Tyburski, Eiriel Davis, Miki Blunt and Gillian Allen helped to provide depth that was necessary to helping Oak Harbor sustain success for the duration of a 22-game season.
For their efforts this season, a number of players(DeWalt, first-team SBC and second-team district); (Velliquette, first-team SBC and first-team district); (Martin, second-team SBC and second-team district); (Hetrick, second-team SBC and second-team district) earned league and district honors.
Although the Rockets will lose three seniors (Hetrick, Hess, Nikki Weis) from this year’s team, they have a number of young players returning that, with another year’s worth of offseason work, will be even better for the 2014 campaign.
For her efforts and contributions to the program, Hess was given the Coach’s Award.
“Hannah has worked so hard for four years,” Goldstein said. “She worked so hard. She's always positive (and) always comes in with a smile and works to get along with everybody. She was very deserving of the award.”
The success of the program can be traced back to the symbiotic relationship that exists between the varsity program and the strong youth programs that help to develop the kids into good, solid players at such young ages. The youth programs continue to supply the varsity with talented players and the success of the Rockets helps to provide some inspiration for the younger kids.
“I actually thanked a couple of the parents who have worked with these girls over the years (at our banquet),” Goldstein said. “Some of the girls coming in, I've had to up my skills to teach them better. I had to re-focus our program on better foot skills to challenge them with more difficult skills. One of the biggest complaints that coaches with other schools have is that they don't have a good feeder program. We have a great feeder program. We are so lucky, and that's what makes our program better.”
Despite being a talented group that was loaded at forward, midfielder, defender and goalkeeper, what set this group apart was its camaraderie.
“There was never any drama and we all just got along really well,” Barney said. “Age never mattered. It wasn't unusual to see the older players with the younger players. We became friends with people we thought we'd never become friends with.”
What makes Oak Harbor’s run through the tournament so much more impressive was the fact it had to replace seven key seniors (Jordan Giesler, Makayla Carpenter, Amber Burnette, Sidney Allen, Kelsey Lacer, Erin Bryant and Sydney Street) from last year’s team. But Barney and her fellow freshmen, five of whom started, were able to fill the void.
“I realized during the summer when I saw Emma and Maddie playing that we could be pretty good this season,” said Goldstein, the Div. II Coach of the Year. “And the girls worked hard and we had a great season because of it. The chemistry with everyone was great.”
What sets Barney apart from other players is her commitment to the sport. She plays soccer in the spring and summer and, under the guidance of former head coach Jorge Diaz at the PSC Impact Academy in Perrysburg, has developed and enhanced her skills as she’s grown up.
"Well, I played for Jorge Diaz since I was about 10 years old and he definitely helped me a lot by improving my foot skills and having me go against better players,” Barney said. “You can't just quit playing (after the fall season). You have to keep making yourself better and better and keep getting stronger and (continue to) play.”
As for now, Barney will turn her attention to basketball where she’ll join a talented bunch that went 16-8 and won a game in the sectional tournament last year. Despite losing several key players from last season, the Rockets do feature a very talented group of freshman that are expected to help the team retool this year.