Benefield: Maria Carrillo grad Bria VarnBuhler is Division III soccer player of the year
Bria VarnBuhler has had a lot of memorable moments in the last few weeks. It’s difficult to pick out the biggest.
VarnBuhler, a 2016 Maria Carrillo grad who was part of a Pumas squad that won four straight Division 1 North Coast Section girls soccer titles, helped lead her Pomona-Pitzer women’s soccer team to an overtime win over the University of Chicago in the NCAA Division III sectionals, then to a penalty-kick victory over Washington University in the section finals a week later, before falling 2-0 to William Smith in the Final Four on Dec. 6.
Finishing with a record of 20-2-2, the Pomona-Pitzer women’s soccer team had the best season in the history of the program. But there was more: In mid-December, VarnBuhler, a senior slated to graduate with a chemistry degree in May, got a call informing her that she had been selected as the NCAA Div. III United Soccer Coaches Player of the Year.
“That one shocked me, when I got that phone call,” she said. “I was, ‘What? Me? Why?’ ”
It’s likely the shock subsided because those calls just kept coming: D3soccer.com Midfielder of the Year; Div. III Honda Athlete of the Year finalist for soccer; Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Player of the Year; United Soccer Coaches Scholar All-American; and her third all-SCIAC first-team nod.
VarnBuhler is the first Pomona-Pitzer player to be named Div. III player of the year and only the fifth ever from a West Coast school. The last time a West Coast player won was in 2005.
“There were literally games where the entire strategy was trying to shut her down,” Pomona-Pitzer coach Jen Scanlon said of her central midfielder. “It was man-to-man marking and that person would follow her all over the field — she’s still scoring 21 goals.”
And those goals — nine of which were game winners — is a program record for a single season. VarnBuhler, a starter since her freshman campaign, was an all-conference first-team pick three years running.
“Since she got here, the nickname we have for her is ‘Sticky Feet,’ ” Scanlon said. “She can literally be falling down, with one hand on the ground and the ball stays at her feet.”
VarnBuhler started her career with the Sagehens as a defensive midfielder when a starter got hurt. VarnBuhler got the nod and never let it go.
“It kind of opened up a spot for me,” she said. “I think I got kind of lucky and got to show myself a lot more.”
She spent two seasons as a defensive midfielder before the Sagehens needed a more goal-scoring pop and Scanlon moved her to an attacking midfielder spot. She scored nine goals as a junior.
Technically gifted, VarnBuhler blossomed as a scorer when she let go of wanting every shot, every setup, to be perfect, Scanlon said.
“Part of that, honestly, was just shooting sooner,” Scanlon said. “It just takes a little window.”
And both player and coach joked that not every goal VarnBuhler netted was a picture of beauty. But a goal is a goal.
“Not all of them were pretty,” VarnBuhler said. “I think I scored with my face, falling down.”