By RICHARD J. MARCUS
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
CLOVERDALE – You don’t have to watch the Cloverdale girls soccer team for very long to realize the Eagles are powered by “Team Stewart.”
Head coach and dad Steve Stewart walks the sideline. On the field are his three daughters, who patrol the midfield for the Eagles — senior Madison and freshmen Karsyn and Bailey. Not to be overlooked is the army of Stewarts — usually about 20 — sitting in the stands during most home games, including wife and mom Karen, as well as an assortment of aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents.
“Our family is very supportive of each other,” Madison said. “Cloverdale soccer has come so far from where we started.”
Not only is Team Stewart playing together representing the Eagles (15-1-3, 10-1-2 in the North Central League I), they are the centerpiece of a successful soccer program that rose like a Phoenix eight years ago. Cloverdale High had no girls soccer team until 2004. After the first year of the program, the original coach departed for family reasons. In stepped coach Stewart, currently in his 19th year as a government and history teacher at the school. The Eagles have been on the soccer map ever since.
“The program would have died, and once you lose a sport (in high school) it is probably not coming back,” the coach said. “So I took over the program knowing that I would coach my daughters as they came up (to Cloverdale High).”
Steve Stewart said he had no soccer experience whatsoever when he took over as coach. He had experience playing and coaching football, baseball and basketball. In fact, he was sixth man and off-guard on Cloverdale’s 1983 and 1984 Division III state championship teams.
“I never played soccer,” Steve Stewart said. “It’s hard to build a program to start with basically nothing .<TH>.<TH>. I want the next group of players to accomplish what we have accomplished.”
On a sun-drenched field last week the second-place Eagles defeated Lower Lake, 6-0, to set up a showdown today with Middletown, which is in first place in the NCL I. Cloverdale tied Middletown 3-3 earlier in the season, but the rematch will be at Cloverdale in front of the Stewart boosters.
“I don’t think Cloverdale is as good as Middletown or Clear Lake, who beat us 12-0. Not to say that Cloverdale isn’t good,” Lower Lake coach Robynn Giese said. “I like Cloverdale, they are one of the nicer teams that we play and they have awesome sportsmanship.”
Part of the Eagles’ sportsmanship, to be sure, is not running up the score on weaker opponents.
“I’ve been on the other end of those (blowout losses). It doesn’t do anybody any good to have a game like that,” coach Stewart said.
Even without piling on the goals the Eagles have outscored their opponents by an impressive 73 goals to 10 this season. Cloverdale’s defense, led by freshman goalkeeper Bailey Creager is averaging around half a goal surrendered per game.
The Eagles’ only league loss came in a heartbreaking 1-0 defeat when St. Helena netted a goal with two minutes to play.
“When St. Helena scored that goal, my heart just dropped,” said Cloverdale senior defender Jaclyn Richardson, one of 17 players on the Eagles. “We have made a change here in the program. We have grown together the last four years. We are leaving a legacy.”
Despite the loss to the Saints and the tie to the Mustangs, the Eagles are still in a position to win the NCL I if they defeat Middletown and visiting Fort Bragg on Thursday in their final regular season game. Beating Middletown will be ground-breaking for the Eagles, who are 0-13-2 against the Mustangs during Stewart’s tenure as coach.
“It would be huge to beat Middletown,” coach Stewart said. “I told the girls if you beat Middletown you can pour the Gatorade bath on me.”
The Eagles are almost a lock to make the North Coast Section playoffs but have never won a postseason game in three previous tries.
“I think we have the best chance we have ever had to get to the second round of the playoffs,” coach Stewart said. “This is the deepest team I’ve ever had.”
In addition to soccer, a<NO>All three Stewart sisters play on Cloverdale girls basketball teams. Madison is also on the track team and Karsyn and Bailey are on the softball team. The Stewart sisters, fifth-generation Cloverdale natives, all said they are close with each other. Their cleats match, and their jersey numbers had up — Karsyn’s No. 4 plus Bailey’s No. 20 equal Madison’s No. 24 Madison, the Eagles’ all-time leading scorer, will be graduating in 2013, leaving Bailey and Karsyn to play their final three years without their big sister.
“It is definitely going to be weird without Madison on the team,” Bailey said.
“Madison pushes us to do our best,” Karsyn said.
As the three Stewart sisters talked about their experiences, their close bond with each other and their fondness for their father/coach was evident.
“I try and enjoy the time we (sisters) have together. Obviously we only have a few more weeks together (on the team). It’s bittersweet, it’s kind of sad,” Madison said. “Our closeness as a team is due to our hard-working dad and good team energy. All the pieces are coming together.”
Coach Stewart said he has committed to coaching Bailey and Karsyn for the next three years until they graduate<NO1> and then will likely hand the program off to another coach.
“I’m trying to take in every minute, especially with Madison being a senior,” coach Stewart said. “To me it is something so special. Not many people get to coach all three of their daughters at the same time.”