Last year as a sophomore member of the Pleasant Valley soccer team, Dianna Connor played the typical role of an underclassman. Connor primarily stayed in the background and did her best to help the team out whenever the occasion presented itself.
This year, with most of the Bears' offensive playmakers from the 2011 season having graduated, Connor didn't just step up her game in their absence. She took over.
Connor had a season to remember in 2012, as she led the Mountain Valley Conference with 30 goals and became just the second female in school history to score that many times (Ali Yozwiak twice, 39 and 35). With that she helped her Lady Bears post a perfect 12-0 conference record during the regular season and come within one win of qualifying for the PIAA playoffs.
Due to her vast development as both a scorer and a leader, Connor has been awarded the 2012 TIMES NEWS Girls' Soccer Player of the Year award.
"It means a lot to me," said Connor. "It stung not getting the (Mountain Valley Conference) MVP because I know I worked my butt off to get to where I am today. This gives me some validation.
"Still, I couldn't have done any of this without my teammates and coaches and a strong support system from my family."
Coming off an injury-plagued season in which she scored eight goals and dished out a team-leading seven assists, Connor knew this year was her time to shine. The junior forward did just that and then some.
It didn't take Connor long to find her 'scoring legs,' as she scored in four of the Bears' first seven games. However, it was in early April when Connor went on a tear and scored 18 of her 30 goals within an eight game stretch. She recorded three hat-tricks in that time and scored at least two goals in six of those contests. After failing to score in a game against Lehighton, Connor went on another six-game scoring streak in which she tallied eight more goals.
Connor's scoring affect on the game was undeniable. Pleasant Valley was an incredible 15-2-1 in games in which she scored at least one goal and a mere 2-4 when she did not. Although putting the ball in the net seemed to come easy to Connor, it wasn't always the first thing on her mind.
"Ever since I was a freshman, I just did what I had to do," said Connor. "I took mental notes when I was younger and realized that this year I had to focus more. I realized I had to make the plays. It was my time now.
"I knew I had to have a great season, but it wasn't all about scoring. We have a lot of other good scorers in Emily (Schlogl) and Ema (Sabovic), so I just did whatever I had to do. My focus at the beginning of games was to always work hard and do what I was told. Eventually the goals would come if I continued to work and have fun."
Pleasant Valley head coach Tim Hinton saw a bright future for Connor even when she was a freshman. Still, he knew that she needed some time to mature and grow as a player. Her growth was evident this season and played a huge role in the team's 17-6-1 record.
"Dianna obviously meant a great deal to the team," said Hinton. "She was our leading scorer and could single-handedly take over games. I know for a fact she opened up quite a few games and made me feel a lot easier about our situation at the time.
"She really stepped up as a complete player this year. She seemed more comfortable and had a better understanding of the game. She always had the skill, the speed and a good shot with accuracy. This year she fine tuned everything and put it all together. She really came into her own."
The season turned out to be a bittersweet one for Connor and her teammates. While Pleasant Valley went undefeated in the conference, it lost in the MVC Final for the second consecutive year. Then, after making a nice run in the District 11 playoffs and reaching the semifinals, the Bears lost two straight games and came up one win shy of qualifying for the state playoffs for the first time since 2007. Fortunately, Connor will have one more chance to make things right.
"Personally, I couldn't have asked for a better season," Connor said. "The team came so far with each other and everyone is much closer. It definitely hurt losing in the MVCs and districts, but it was still a great season.
"Those losses will serve as motivation for next year. The losses from last year put more 'umph' into this season and I expect them to do the same next year. We win and lose together. All of us soon-to-be seniors know that and will do everything we can to make next season even better."