Eastern Regional soccer senior Ava Clark was honored last month for her stellar play as the Vikings’ 2022 goalie.
Like her big sister Alex the year before, Clark received the SJSCA Player of the Year award for goalkeeper. She was a major part of the team’s success this season as it acquired another Olympic Conference title, its seventh in as many years..
Clark had 19 shutouts this year, while allowing multiple goals in only two games. Thanks in large part to her play, the Vikings made it all the way to the NJSIAA semifinal round before a 3-0 loss to the eventual state champion, Freehold Township.
Given the rich soccer talent pool in South Jersey, Clark at first didn’t expect an award, even though she was all-region, all-area and all-state for the season..
“I knew I had a pretty good chance, but just kind of hoped for the best,” she said. “My sister won the award last year so I knew (what it was). Then as soon as I heard them announce (her) 19 shutouts, I said, ‘Oh my god, it’s me.’ I was shaking, I was so excited.”
What made the award so much more special for Clark was the adversity she has faced in high school. She dealt with injuries in multiple seasons, so the 2022 season was her first shot at showcasing her skills as a starting goalkeeper.
“Going into the season playing behind my sister for three years, I knew it was my chance,” she recalled. “I was (ready) to show people who I was and that I can play … I was super excited for this season, mainly because all of the girls have been playing together for so long …
“Deep down I knew we could make it far.”
A recurring theme in the Eastern soccer program is the tight-knit community, bonds with other players before high school, and lasting ties once they leave. Clark spoke at length about the team chemistry that’s been obvious since travel soccer days.
“We never got down on one another (during tough games),’’ she pointed out. “Our defense was super strong this year and everyone was comfortable with one another. We had one another’s back, which made me comfortable knowing that, hey if I let in a goal, (they) got me.”
But Clark looks forward to a break from soccer, hoping she will remain healthy and in shape despite not playing at the collegiate level. She admitted the years of wear on her body deterred her from playing at the next level.
Upon graduation, Clark will attend cosmetology school in the area. Her love for the game is still there, and she would like to continue helping kids with private lessons and counseling at local camps, including Eastern coach Jamie McGroarty’s summer sessions.
“Coach McG is one of the only coaches I ever felt that really got me,” Clark acknowledged. “Seeing him reach his 500th win this year made me so happy … I still can go and help him (at his camp), train the goalkeepers, but that’s it for now …
“I still think about (soccer), but I know it’ll be better for me in the long run.”