Opponents still trying to stop Gators’ Varner

Since Kayla Varner burst on the prep soccer scene as a freshman, she’s had to scrap for every goal, facing double teams and opponents specifically tasked with stopping the Green Valley star.

All in all, those tactics have failed.

"Everybody knows who she is, and they put a player on her just to control her," coach Roy Snyder said. "Everybody accounts for her, and she can still get that goal. It’s very difficult to shut her down."

Opponents’ last chance to stop Varner, now a senior, starts at 6 p.m. today when Green Valley (13-6-1) plays Desert Pines (8-7) on the first day of the Sunrise Region tournament at Bettye Wilson Park.

The Gators’ quest to reach their first Southern Nevada title game since 2008 begins with Varner, a 5-foot-6-inch striker who has 103 career goals. This season she has a team-high 20 goals as well as 15 assists, which have been key to the success of junior Cassidy McLean (11 goals) and freshman Kayla Anderson (10).

"That’s something that is really special. Not a lot of players can say they’re (not) just goal scorers but also lead in assists," Snyder said. "There are great attacking players, great goal scorers, but all they do is finish. She does everything."

Communication is crucial to Varner’s success as a scorer and facilitator.

"My team works really well with me," she said. "If I tell them to make a run, they know I’m going to get it to them. I like working with them, and they like working with me, so it makes my job really easy.

"I just try to be aggressive. I want to do whatever I can do to help somebody score, or score a goal myself."

Varner, who was the Gators’ No. 2 scorer her first two seasons and earned NSCAA All-America honors in 2009, attributes her aggressive play to her club season, when she plays on the same team as many of her high school opponents.

"I don’t like being pushed off the ball," Varner added. "I like having control of the ball at all times."

Varner recently signed with Brigham Young, a decision she said was "really emotional." She also considered offers from a long list of schools that included Oregon State, South Carolina and Evansville.

After a BYU coach saw Varner play in a club tournament in California, the Cougars called with a scholarship offer the next morning.

"The funny thing is, BYU was not on my list. I told them I would never go there," said Varner, whose mother, Liz, played at BYU in the program’s infancy. "The first (summer sport) camp I went to, my parents kind of made me go. I told the coach I didn’t really want to play for them. They still give me a hard time about it. But they got me."

With Varner, the Gators have been consistently among the top teams in the Sunrise Region. They surprised themselves with 15 wins in 2009 before a Sunrise semifinal exit, then won last year’s regular-season title before losing in a 2-1 upset to Coronado in the tournament semifinals.

But a combination of experience and youth — Green Valley has eight returning starters and six underclassmen — could lead the Gators back to where they want to be.

"I just want to win. I want to get that ring," Varner said. "I think we all deserve it for how hard we’ve all worked. I don’t like having to lose that game again."

Contact reporter Sean Walker at swalker@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0430.

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