By Jeremy Stafford - email@example.com
BERRYVILLE -- Aubrey Fletcher, The Northern Virginia Daily's Girls Soccer Player of the Year, didn't have the one advantage seemingly every other Clarke County player had when she joined the Eagles for the first time.
Everyone else had grown up together, and played Parks and Recreation soccer and travel soccer together. The Eagles' team chemistry was largely prevalent even before the 2010 season began.
And Fletcher, until her freshman season, had never been a part of it.
Of course Fletcher also played travel soccer, and still does. But she plays over the mountain, she plays in the highly competitive Washington Area Girls Soccer League. She plays for FC Virginia.
As of June 6, Gotsoccer.com ranked Fletcher's U-16 club team No. 14 in the country, No. 6 in the region, and No. 3 in Virginia.
So when Fletcher joined the Eagles last year, she wasn't at all concerned with being able to keep up with the other varsity players. Fletcher has always been able to keep up. In fact, she's always set the pace. In the first grade, she gave up gymnastics, volleyball, tennis and basketball to focus on soccer. It was the one sport that came naturally to her; and when she ran, even with the ball, especially with the ball, Fletcher was simply faster and more dynamic than those she played with.
But for all her talent, Fletcher couldn't ease the strain that came with joining a Clarke County team that was altogether new to her, couldn't stop wondering if she would ever fit in with a group of girls she had never before played with.
"It was a lot different, and I had to adjust to some things," Fletcher said. "I didn't know any of the girls, so it was hard to get to know them.
"But they all welcomed me in."
It didn't take long for Fletcher to fit in, to become an integral part of that chemistry that had long existed without her. Fletcher scored 30 goals as a freshman, 11 more than anyone else in the area.
Behind Fletcher's 45 goals this past season, Clarke County, for the first time since 2007, advanced to the Group A state championship game. No other Eagle has scored so many goals in a season.
Fletcher is well on her way to reaching Danielle Moyer's Clarke County record of 136 career goals; which, incidentally, is also the second-most career goals scored in Group A.
The 18 hat tricks Fletcher has scored in her two years at Clarke County already equals Moyer's Group A record.
Clarke County coach Terry Ellis said that while Moyer was certainly a capable scorer, and of course an essential part of the two state championships Clarke County won in 2005 and 2006, young players like Fletcher are meant to surpass historic players like Moyer, and records are meant to be broken.
"Aubrey is such a fantastic player, she's such a smart player," Ellis said. "She's so aggressive, she has a knack to go for the goal, but then she has a knack for being able to cover for her teammates.
"She's just an all-around natural player on the field."
Take, for example, Fletcher's favorite goal of the season -- or what would have been her favorite, had the goal been allowed.
In Clarke County's 14-0 win over Nelson County in the Region B quarterfinals, Eagles junior Courtney Butterfass sent a ball into the box, and Fletcher pounded a header in. The play unfolded so quickly the Nelson County keeper didn't have time to react.
But the goal was disallowed; whether because of a foul or because of an offside call, neither Fletcher nor Ellis could say. It was never made clear to them.
"It went in so hard, too," Fletcher said longingly. "That's why I liked it."
Anyway, Fletcher scored five goals that quarterfinal game. She scored another three in the Region B semifinal game against Madison County, and another three in the Group A quarterfinal game at Northumberland.
And suddenly a short-lived but very weighty pattern developed: This group of Eagles, playing in its first-ever state tournament, began the state quarterfinal game and the state semifinal game with buzzing nerves; and in each game Fletcher scored within 15 minutes; and from that point on the Eagles' nerves settled, and their passes were on and their scoring chances increased.
Senior Megan Allison got in on the scoring, and senior Meredith Roberts got in on the scoring, and senior Brianna Harrell did as well -- all the way to the Group A state championship.
And so nearly two years after wondering whether or not she would fit in with the Eagles, it's become quite apparent that Fletcher, especially late her sophomore season, became a symbol of consistency for Clarke County, and the means through which the Eagles reacquired their essential focus.
But while the number of Fletcher's goals has soared, and though her individual accomplishments have surpassed what even she anticipated, it's this past season, and all the successes she's shared with her team -- winning 17 games, advancing to the Group A final, reviving a program that for three years has been absent from the state tournament -- that has the young forward relishing next season.
"I still think we can make it to states if we work hard," Fletcher said. "And that's where I want us to go."