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Jordan Griess got used to being a vocal leader for Cheyenne East

Jun. 7—CHEYENNE — Cheyenne East girls soccer coach Rebecca Valdez spent a little extra time talking to her team after its 0-0 draw April 10 at Cheyenne South.

Valdez thought the scoreless match was the latest in a string of uninspired efforts from her club. The Thunderbirds weren't going to achieve their lofty goals playing the way they had been. She challenged the group — especially her captains — to come up with a solution.

"The majority of us were like, 'The coaches are right. We can't be coming to practices and games playing slow and taking 10 or 15 minutes of each game to get warmed up because we weren't properly warming up before the game," senior Jordan Griess said. "We had to take our practices seriously. The time we were getting during the week and the time during warmups are what's supposed to get you ready for the game.

"When you're taking 10 or 15 minutes to get warmed up in an 80-minute game, that's 10-15 minutes you're not able to be attacking the way you should. They were right, we had to start taking things more seriously."

Leading by example is right in Griess' wheelhouse. The other thing the captains vowed to do is outside her comfort zone. She was being asked to become a more vocal leader.

"We started talking to each other more and tried to use body language to bring the energy up," Griess said. "We made sure we encouraged someone if they made a mistake. We didn't want anyone playing tight.

"We started playing like we were there to compete and like we wanted to go to (the state tournament)."

The T-Birds advanced to the state tournament and finished the season 5-6-6 overall. They didn't accomplish all of their goals, but they got a lot closer than it appeared they might in the middle of the season.

Griess was a big part of the turnaround, netting four of her eight goals and half of her six assists down the stretch. Those efforts also earned her girls soccer player of the year honors from WyoSports' Cheyenne staff.

"As the season went on, I adopted more of an attacking mindset," Griess said. "We all got out of a defensive mindset after talking about how the goal of soccer isn't just to defend your goal, it's also to attack the other team's net."

Valdez describes Griess as the epitome of a team player.

"She lives our team values and is the type of player who doesn't come around often," Valdez said. "She's a great player on the field, but not many people get to see what she does for us off the field. There's a reason she's a three-time captain. Not many sophomores get voted team captain.

"She gets the balls out for you and puts the balls away and puts the cones away, all without being asked. She's the one making sure kids are organized behind the scenes. She got out of her comfort zone a lot when it came to talking to teammates. That's a lot of growth because she doesn't like the spotlight."

Griess also was important to the T-Birds because of her versatility. She primarily played forward this season, but also dropped into the defense whenever East was clinging to a lead and needed a speedy player to help neutralize scoring threats.

Griess started her East career as a defender before moving to midfield and forward during her sophomore campaign.

"A big part of our puzzle this year was figuring out how to best utilize her," Valdez said. "We had a stronger midfield this year, so we thought we could push her up to that forward position more. We asked her to play a position that's not her natural position, by any means.

"We wanted to put her in the spot that helped the team the most, and that just happened to be forward."

Griess has signed with the University of Wyoming. The Cowgirls roster lists her as a midfielder, but she anticipates moving back to defense. However, new Cowgirls coach Josh Purdum hasn't closed the door on her playing forward at some point during her time in Laramie.

"He told me I can always work my way back to an attacking position, but we'll see what happens," Griess said. "You never know what the future holds. I'll play wherever they want me. I'll go wherever the playing time is."

In order to play forward at the NCAA Division I level, Griess knows she's going to have to get quicker at gathering the ball and moving forward. She's not going to have the time to collect and turn that she's enjoyed in high school and even club soccer.

"At the high school level, you have time to turn and time to look because there's not always a defender on you right away," she said. "In college, you need to know where you're going to go and what you're going to do almost as soon as you get the ball."

Jeremiah Johnke is the WyoSports editor. He can be reached at jjohnke@wyosports.net or 307-633-3137. Follow him on X at @jjohnke.