Capital Fall Classic: Shenandoah Valley United Girls 95 Elite illustrate their club’s progression
By Roger Gonzalez and Charles Boehm
RICHMOND, Va. – The western part of Virginia is not usually considered a soccer hotbed. With stiff competition from dominant regions like Richmond, Northern Virginia and the Virginia Beach/Tidewater area, it can be hard to get much recognition in State Cup, regional leagues and tournament play.
But one team from Harrisonburg, Va. hopes to continue to prove that those in the West can also play a little futbol.
Shenandoah Valley United Girls 95 Elite, led by coach Jon McClure, are an Under-18 team from Harrisonburg, the small city of some 50,000 residents in the Shenandoah Valley that James Madison University calls home. The squad competes in the Skyline Club Soccer League and like many SVU teams, demonstrates some quality play despite not having the deepest talent pool at its disposal.
The goal is to try and expose the kids to higher-level competition, and spending last weekend at the Capital Fall Classic did just that. The girls tied two games and lost one during the weekend, reaching the semifinals in the U-18 Premier division.
“It’s a good tournament,” McClure told SoccerWire.com. “Richmond Strikers put on a good event. We alway have an end-of-the-season tournament for the fall and [the Strikers] do a really good job.”
The Skyline league consists of many teams mainly along I-81, and things have gone well, but the need for more, and more diverse, competition has been key. Playing at CFC provided just such an experience, and while McClure mentioned that the chance at automatic qualification to the Jefferson Cup played a role in their participation, they reaped many useful lessons despite not achieving that goal.
“These girls know that this is part of the deal, but we don’t talk much about that,” McClure said in reference to the club’s effort to showcase players to college recruiters via events like Jeff Cup. “We only have four seniors on the team. We play in the U-18 division but we’ve got the younger kids that are kind of looking ahead. We try not to think about it that much.”
Growing opportunities for younger and more talented players points to SVU’s steady improvement as a club in recent years.
“I’ve been with the club 10 years now,” McClure said. “We’ve changed names, changed directors. Our current director has just taken us leaps and bounds forward. We have got a rec league program, an academy program and good premier and elite travel teams. We have educated coaches, dedicated parents and players. It is definitely a fast jump, but it’s really exciting to see what we are doing.”
One of the challenges his team faces is playing together and showing such quality, only to then be spread out among area high schools where the overall quality of play is typically not nearly as high. It took some adjusting to.
“We first see the difference when our kids go back and play high school,” McClure said. “These kids are the most technical, most tactical players on their high school teams. But then as we have gotten together, we have been playing longer, we now have seen better results. It’s fun to see those results.
“They are all good players, but now they need to step in and find something to be great at. They are used to winning by a couple, three or four goals. Now we have to know what it is like to play from behind, play [in a] tie. And we also need to know how to play a full match and not get down on themselves. They are developing that skill, they really are.”
As one who works on both sides of the sometimes-antagonistic divide between club and high-school soccer, McClure takes a practical approach to his kids’ split allegiances.
“It is part of the reality. I’m a high school coach in the spring, and I’m also a club coach in the fall. I understand how both can come together,” he said. “We can help each other out. I do care about player burnout, doing lots of different things all the time. As long as the kids are smart with what they are doing, I think both programs can coexist.”
McClure knows that bigger clubs play year-round, but he said many of his girls stay fit by playing basketball and taking part in area futsal events over the winter months.
While he continues to build his team and aid the program, he also hopes his area of the state’s reputation gets a boost when it comes to the beautiful game.
“We have a small population compared to Charlottesville, obviously compared to Richmond, even compared to Roanoke,” McClure said. “We do split our players with other high school sports. But the ones that are with us all year round, we see the difference.”
Increasingly, others are, too.