Friday, November 24, 2017

Steinbrenner goalkeeper moves beyond expectations



If you're a college recruiter and looking at a resume that includes "two-time state champion, National Soccer Coaches Association of America's High School Senior Excellence Award, Save of the Year Award, 5.31 weighted grade-point average, lock-down goalkeeper and team leader," you probably would come out to see this athlete.

But suppose she doesn't meet any of your preconceived notions of what that kind of athlete might look like. Suppose she blows that notion away. Suppose she blows your mind with how athletic she is, still.

"You can't understand how agile she actually is by looking at her," Clearwater Chargers under-18 coach Siggi Nagele said. "Her weight has never been an issue in terms of the type of player she is."

There's little doubt that the Steinbrenner High School senior Stephanie Hirsch has proven many doubters wrong.

Hirsch suffers from polycystic ovary syndrome, which can cause weight gain, among other side effects. But in some ways, she has used that to her advantage as a goalkeeper.

"There are so many violent collisions in that 18-yard box," Nagele said. "People are afraid to stick their nose in there with Stephanie defending."

"I've dealt with it all my life," Hirsch said of her weight. "But I like to prove people wrong."

Polycystic ovary syndrome is an imbalance of the female sex hormones. It afflicts as many as five million women in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Besides weight gain, it can also cause acne and excessive hair growth.

Hirsch struggled mightily with it, especially during puberty.

"It was really bad back then," Hirsch said. "I had to deal with the facial hair and I was really really big back then."

Hirsch has a rigorous workout routine and follows a strict diet. She said she's now starting to gain control of the hormonal imbalance, yet people's perceptions remain.

She recalled a recent trip to Indiana University for a camp combine that bolstered her confidence.

"I had the best camp that I'd ever had. I felt like I outplayed all the other athletes there," Hirsch said. "One of the assistant coaches came up to me at the end of the day and told me what a phenomenal keeper I was and how I moved so well for my size."

Hirsch knew that the assistant coach singling her out that way probably meant that the head coach was not going to have the same things to say.

"I kept waiting for the 'but' and it did come, but that coach singling me out like that did a lot for my confidence," she said.

Since then, Hirsch has picked up offers from the University of Great Falls in Montana and South Carolina State.

Hirsch started out playing for the Westchase Soccer Association as a youngster. Her dad, Larry, was a coach on those early teams and Hirsch remembers her dad "not exactly going easy on me."

Hirsch's dad is the play-by-play commentator for Steinbrenner soccer matches and is coming from a career announcing for the Tampa Bay Lightning and New Jersey Devils hockey teams, and the Cleveland Indians and Houston Astros baseball teams.

From Westchase, Hirsch fed into the FC Tampa Soccer Club where, as a 10 year-old, she played on the under-12 team. She even played on the boys' all-star team from that year. She went on to play for the Countryside Soccer Club, then the Dunedin Stirling Soccer Club.

It was there that she drew the attention of the nationally recognized Ponte Vedra Soccer Club in Jacksonville. And that's where her career took flight.

Hirsch won a state title in 2011 with Ponte Vedra, only allowing three goals during the entire State Cup. Earlier that same year, Hirsch won a high school Class 4A state title with Steinbrenner, notching six saves in a 2-1 win over Merritt Island in the final. Hirsch only conceded four goals during the Warriors' seven-game playoff run.

"That was a storybook season," Hirsch said.

Hirsch also was invited to the regional Olympic Development Program as part of the Florida team, where she and current teammate Marley Opilia trained with some of the top talent and coaches in the country.

"She's (Hirsch) the consummate teammate," Warriors' coach Angela Gillisse said. "Her whole focus is the team and what she's doing to help it."

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