Kilmer guides Warriors through daunting challenges

Rob Kilmer

In Rob Kilmer’s 16 years as the head coach of Sherando’s girls soccer team, he’d never seen a schedule quite as daunting as the one the Warriors experienced in 2015.

Even before the Warriors had played a match this past season, the challenge was apparent. Sherando, a member of the Virginia High School League’s Group 4A classification, was scheduled to open the season against defending 5A state champion Briar Woods on the road. A home meeting with 2014 Group 4A state champ and fellow Conference 21 member Dominion loomed later in the spring, with plenty of expectedly tense skirmishes with Northwestern District rivals Handley and Millbrook and the handful of Loudoun County high schools that make up the bulk of Conference 21 sprinkled throughout the 2015 slate.

Kilmer’s initial assertion that this spring’s schedule was truly Sherando’s most difficult ever was only strengthened at season’s end, when a pair of Conference 21 teams — Loudoun County High School and Heritage (Leesburg), two schools Sherando played a total of three times in 2015 — met in the Group 4A state championship match that culminated in Loudoun County’s first state title.

And yet as daunting as that schedule was, Kilmer, the Northern Virginia Daily’s 2015 Girls Soccer Coach of the Year, navigated the Warriors to their first double-digit win season in five years.

“We knew it was the most difficult schedule in program history just going into it,” Kilmer said recently, “so we knew there were going to be some bumps in it, but we grew as a team and got on a roll and some girls stepped up. Some of them had probably the best year of their careers, so it was good to see.”

Sherando’s 2015 season was devoid of any major trophy presentations. There was no Northwestern District title for the Warriors, and their season ended in the semifinal round of the conference tournament with a 4-0 loss to Heritage.

But the Warriors (11-6-1) did win 11 matches — their highest total since winning 12 in 2010 — and their third-place finish in the Conference 21 regular-season race offered Kilmer and the Warriors plenty of recompense.

“One thing parents, kids, even the coaching staff, we’ve all turned and said it’s good to know that we were tested against the best,” Kilmer said. “It’s great company. You say who beat you in conference? And it’s like the state champion and the state runner-up, and then we finished third behind that.”

Before Sherando’s season began, Kilmer and his coaching staff nearly made a decision that, in hindsight, could’ve inhibited much of the success the Warriors saw this spring. Kilmer said he toyed with the notion of moving senior forward Erin Magalis — last season’s leading scorer — to the defensive back line to help shore up a perceived weakness in the Warriors’ formation, a move that Kilmer felt was necessitated by the arrivals of Handley transfer Melida Berrios and freshman Katherine Robertson and the rise of junior Olivia Elliott.

Magalis talked her coach out of the switch, Kilmer recalled, and he cooled on the idea after seeing the development of junior sweeper Alex Snapp and fellow defenders Dreaya Somerville, Megan Triplett and Lauren Heskett along a youthful Sherando back line.

“The development of all them enabled us to push Erin forward,” Kilmer said.

Magalis responded by scoring 16 goals, becoming the first Warrior to reach that mark since Brittani Dennis in 2010.

Even with Magalis spearheading an offensive attack that would eventually boast seven players with at least three goals by season’s end, the Warriors struggled to score early, combining for three goals in the their first three matches.

In the fourth game of the year against Skyline, the Warriors’ offense sprang to life after Kilmer delivered a message during a 35-minute lightning delay, as Sherando went on to rout the Hawks 8-0.

“I certainly think they took it to heart and they realized the talent on the team, that if I don’t produce I am going to be replaced,” Kilmer said.

If the Skyline match was the beginning of Sherando finding its offensive rhythm, the Warriors’ first loss to Heritage on April 8 marked when they started putting it all together on the pitch. Kilmer referred to that match against Heritage as Sherando’s “grow-up game.”

“In that game, the first 20 minutes they were all over us and we made two changes. We put Taylor Fogarty in the middle and we put Melida [Berrios] up top,” Kilmer said. “But basically, if you look at that, that was the lineup we used for the rest of the year.”

From there, Sherando won six of its next seven matches, including a 2-1 home win over Dominion that Kilmer called the Warriors’ biggest win of the year.

“We changed our formation this year to combat how the Loudoun schools play,” Kilmer said. “We had to go three strikers to try to take away their outside backs and everything. I would say it was pretty successful, that we did pretty good with it.”

Sherando appears set up for more success in the future, as the Warriors graduated only three seniors — Magalis, Audra Sites and Ryan McKenna — from this year’s squad, although that trio left a legacy on Sherando’s girls soccer program this season that ran beyond statistical accomplishments (Magalis and Sites were both first team all-district and all-conference selections). Kilmer said the Warriors’ greatest asset this spring was team chemistry, a trait he attributes directly to his three seniors.

“I think it all started with them,” he said. “They didn’t look down on anyone. They didn’t care if you were a freshman, sophomore, you had every right in this program. You were every bit as important as they were. And it was just great chemistry — a fantastic team chemistry-wise.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com