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STEPHENS CITY – Sarah Max debuted for Shenandoah Valley Christian Academy’s girls soccer team in 2016 and piled up 31 goals and 17 assists in 25 matches. As lofty as those numbers were, she’s on pace to match – or, better yet, improve on – those impressive totals in year two with the Patriots this spring.
Such has been the plan for Max. If she’s not seeing improvement each time she steps on the soccer pitch, she’s not adhering to her own philosophy. Regression or remaining stagnant is not part of her daily routine.
“Every day I always think what can I do today to get better, not only for myself but for my team too,” Max, a sophomore, said on Monday. “So I just try to do that, and then you can really see the difference on the field in the little choices that you make.”
SVCA head coach Dustin Wheelock has noticed that improvement in multiple facets of Max’s performance and demeanor this spring. Higher confidence level? Check. Stronger skill set? Yep. Larger leadership role, despite her status as one of the youngest players on the Patriots’ 21-player roster? Absolutely.
Through SVCA’s first 16 matches this season, Max has scored 19 goals to go along with 11 assists. That goal total trails only Max’s older sister, senior Hannah Max – who has 21 goals and 11 assists this year after racking up 37 and 15 for the Patriots last season – for the team lead.
In three matches last week Sarah, The Northern Virginia Daily’s Athlete of the Week for April 17-23, scored seven goals and added three assists for SVCA, which went unbeaten in that stretch.
“We knew as coaches that she was going to have a big impact on our team,” Wheelock said, “but she’s a bigger impact than what we even really imagined.”
Max began her strong week on the pitch with her first hat trick of the season, a three-goal performance against visiting Heritage Academy (Maryland) on April 17 that powered the Patriots to a 7-1 win.
However, it was her outing the next night, when she scored a pair of goals against James Wood, that Wheelock said was Max’s most impressive of the three matches.
“She’s a target-type player for us,” Wheelock said. “We play it into her feet and she holds off two to three defenders and gives us time to then move forward as a team. It’s very rare that she loses the ball. She’s so strong with the ball, so skilled, deceptive with what she’s doing, and defenders have to stay really tight because if they don’t she can score.”
For Max, the best part of that match against the Colonels was the outcome – a 5-0 SVCA victory against a member of the Virginia High School League’s Group 4A classification.
“It’s special for a lot of girls on our team because we’re homeschooled, so we don’t get to play other high schools usually,” Max said of SVCA, a private school that competes in the Mason-Dixon Christian Conference.
“The teams in our conference, some of them are pretty young teams. So just being able to establish ourselves against a good team that’s been around here a long time, it definitely gives us a boost of confidence.”
Max capped her stellar week by scoring two more goals and chipping in a pair of assists in an 8-0 win over Cumberland Valley Christian School (Pennsylvania) last Thursday.
The Max sisters – a trio that includes Sarah’s twin sister Rebekah – likely have a leg up on a lot of the competition they face during the high school spring season, having been groomed on the soccer field through their participation on a travel team in Loudoun County. But Sarah’s scoring prowess at striker for the Patriots is still impressive, especially considering she was a defender her entire playing career before moving up to forward for SVCA last spring.
“Dustin and (assistant coach Mandy Wheelock) have both given me a lot of confidence on the ball because I’d never played striker before until last year,” Max said. “So that was a little nerve-wracking for me but they told me I could do it and they give me a lot of techniques to use, and that’s really helped my ball control and just being more confident as a player.”
Though Sarah is now spending her time on the field producing goals rather than trying to stop them, her time as a defender helped her develop a physical style of play that has translated well into her new role.
“She’s so strong,” said Wheelock, whose team is 14-1-1 after a pair of wins to start this week. “We haven’t been awarded a penalty kick yet this season and most of it is because Sarah doesn’t go down. She gets hit, she takes those hits and keeps her feet, whereas a lot of people go down and probably get some of those calls. But with that being said in the long run it’s good for her because a lot of those times that she doesn’t go down, she still finishes.”
Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com