Rams’ soccer boasts major improvements and rejuvenation in 2024

Published 11:00 am Saturday, March 2, 2024

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The Valley soccer program has been in a season of rebuilding over the course of the past few years, but now the Rams are finally starting to see the fruit of their labor and produce on the pitch. 

Will Eliott is in year three as the head coach for Valley’s boys soccer team, and the team is having its most successful season during his tenure. The Rams are currently 2-2 with wins over Park Crossing and Ariton. 

Before this season, Valley had not won a game since 2020. With new players moving in and bringing more experience, the entire atmosphere and attitude of the team have changed. 

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“I think the big thing is we’ve had so many new kids move in,” Elliott said. “That’s just increased our numbers to be honest with you. In the past, I’ve had kids that had talent, but I feel like they would just give out because I didn’t really have any subs. I feel like the extra numbers are helping them. Also, a lot of the kids that are moving in just have a lot more natural talent. I’m not saying that there’s not a lot that I’m doing, but they all just seem to have more of a knack for what’s going on.” 

With all the new faces on the team, the coaching staff has also had more freedom to make substitutions and fill out the roster. 

In the past, Elliott has barely had enough players to fill out a starting lineup and make substitutions. So many kids showed up for tryouts this season that the coaching staff actually had to cut their roster down. 

“My first year, I think we probably had like 15-16 kids,” Elliott said. “There was one game we played against Eufaula my first year, and I had to play with seven kids in the game. This year, I’m at 25-26 in total, and I could have kept more.” 

At tryouts this year, the Rams had approximately 50 boys show up for tryouts and then another 30 girls try out for the Lady Rams. 

Now that the Rams are starting to have success on the pitch, the participation and interest in the team have increased throughout the school and the community. 

“My players, they seem a lot more excited and a lot more bought in this year,” Elliott said. “I know that they’ve mentioned that they’re announcing our wins and announcing our scores over the intercom.” 

Elliott is also the cross country coach at Valley as well as the assistant coach for the flag football team, but he also works full-time as a P.E. teacher at Shawmut Elementary School. 

With Elliott not being at the high school as much as the coaches for other sports, getting students to participate in the soccer program has been one of the biggest obstacles during his tenure as head coach. 

“That’s been one of the most difficult things,” Elliott said. “The girls head coach is Coach [Fern] Piper. She’s at the high school now, she’s there 24/7. A lot of them know her very well. It’s just constant communication when I can. I have an app that I talk to them on, and it’s just focusing on finding ways and things they’re interested in. It’s very hard to build a relationship with them when you’re coming from little kids, and you have to immediately change over to high school kids.” 

Even with the challenges, Elliott has found a way to build strong relationships with his players and coaches. 

Piper and Elliott’s coaching relationship has been one of the things that has helped to improve the soccer program the most. The girls and boys team’s practices are partially joint, and the two help each other improve their coaching and their team. Piper is also the head coach of the flag football team, and she and Elliott are constantly looking for ways to see that program improve as well. 

“It’s been awesome,” Elliott said. “Her and I are on the same page, we get along very well. We both feed off each other very well. She’s very defensive-minded when it comes to soccer, and I’m more of the offensive mind when it comes to it. It’s because with flag football it’s kind of the opposite sometimes. She’s very good at describing what needs to happen…” 

Elliott played soccer as a kid, but he has more experience in other sports. However, his passion for coaching led him to take the opening at Chambers County. 

“I played rec soccer when I was really, really young,” Elliott said. “I played every sport growing up… When I saw the opening for soccer come open in Chambers County, I wanted to do something. I wanted to get back into coaching. I figured I would take a shot at it, and I thought I’d be good at it.” 

Elliott and Fern are focused on growing the game at Valley High School, but they also want to be a part of the growth throughout the surrounding area and in Alabama. 

“I think it’s going to be really important to build it because I think we have an opportunity to be really good moving forward,” Elliott said. “I think we have the opportunity to be one of the better sports in this area.” 

The Rams have seen several players step up this season. Santiago Diaz has helped to lock down the midfield for the Rams after joining the team just over three weeks ago. Jose Diaz, Santiago’s brother, has also been a major part of Valley’s improvement. 

Along with the Diaz brothers, Valley has had several new faces step up this season. Axnel Revilla has been a major factor this season as well as Miguel Sosa, Sosa scored the game-winner against Park Crossing. 

Though new faces have been a big part of the Rams’ success, Valley has also had some returners step up this season. James Jones has been with Valley since Elliott arrived with the team, and he has stepped up as the team captain and the only senior on the team. 

The offense has seen some major improvements, but players like Chris Martinez, Edgar Gonzales-Morales and Micah Williams have also helped the Rams improve on defense. 

The biggest improvement for the Rams has been the excitement. Valley’s players are now happier than ever to be on the pitch, and it shows with the improvement. 

“This year they just all seem to be more bought in and willing to actually work hard,” Elliott said. “I know a lot of them go out on the weekends and just practice without me being there. If I say the practice is canceled because of the weather or whatever, they’ll be on the app saying ‘Hey, can we go out there anyway?’”

Elliott is sticking with a modest goal of getting at least five wins this season, but the improvements that the Rams have seen this year are impossible to overstate.