It’s no secret the Stillwater High girls’ soccer team was much improved this spring en route to its first state playoff berth in five years.
Yet, it might be a secret how good of a defensive team the Lady Pioneers were this year. Of their 16 games, seven were won by shutout. They allowed only one goal in another six games and won half of those.
Senior goalkeeper Kaitlyn Springer was one of the big reasons for the defensive prowess this spring. However, she had the team’s most valuable player in front of her at one of the centerback positions in senior Bella Blake.
“We for sure had to get along well,” Blake said. “We wouldn’t get mad at each other if we had things to say. It was always positive criticism, if there as any criticism at all. We were always communicating on and off the field.”
For her performance on the field and team leadership shown throughout the spring, Blake was named the Stillwater News Press Spring Sports Female Athlete of the Year.
“I just went into the season hoping I could make this very last year of playing soccer the best it could possibly be,” Blake said. “I think the whole team worked very hard and I worked the hardest I think I ever have all the years I’ve played in high school, because this was our best team so far. I just wanted to end with a bang and help the team as best as I could.”
SHS soccer coach Seth Condley said Blake was voted as the team MVP for obvious reasons.
“She just led us in every way and there’s a reason she was one of our captains,” Condley said. “She worked hard every day and everyone else just followed suit.”
Condley added that Blake’s performance on the back line was a big reason for the team’s ability to keep games low scoring, which was often needed as the goals didn’t usually come until the second half of contests.
She locked down one position he finds vital to a team’s success.
“As a coach, you want solid goalkeeper play, which we had from Kaitlyn, and then you need a solid centerback – someone down the middle of your field to control things – and if you can have a good midfielder to make three solid leaders on your team, that can be ideal,” Condley said. “That’s what I’m looking for as a coach.
“We had Bella and Kaitlyn right down the middle for us, but Bella was just solid. She kept the locker room light and happy and drama free. It was pretty fun to watch and witness. I just wish I had another year with her, because that’s where we’re going to be struggling.”
Throughout out the season, Blake would use her athleticism and speed to chase down balls before opponents’ forwards could have a chance to put pressure on Springer. Her aggressive and attacking style paid dividends, but her abilities were always on display during her senior campaign.
“She could see the whole field and of course, her speed helps her out,” Condley said. “Her and Kambrian (Colborn) were great partners back there together. As the season went along, she got a little more technical and she felt more comfortable to where she would take the ball out of the back and take three or four touches working the ball out of the back and keeping it on the ground.”
All of this almost didn’t happen. Condley said he tried to move Blake back to a forward, where she began her high school career. She later moved to the defensive back line, and she wanted to remain there for the betterment of the team.
“We really talked to her about going to forward and helping Alyssa out up front to give us another option to score,” Condley said. “She just didn’t want that. She said, ‘Coach, I think I can be better off for the girls to play back there.’ She played back there last year and it ended up being a pretty smart move.”
Blake has decided to end her soccer career and pursue a nursing degree at the University of Oklahoma.
“She had four or five schools come in her senior year,” Condley said. “She’s going to OU for a nursing program instead. I wish she would have, as a coach, but she had several offers.”
Although her career ended with a loss in the state playoffs, Blake hopes she set a standard for the younger Lady Pioneers to follow.
“As a captain, I took that responsibility and always tried to stay positive and motivate the girls, even if we were losing or winning,” Blake said. “I tried to be a good role model for the younger girls.”