As the featured player on River Ridge High's state final four volleyball team, Carla Imperatore's skills were well-known. For Land O'Lakes' Kristen Boerner, a defensive midfielder in soccer who seldom scored, earning recognition was harder.
But as Boerner said, "Those who really understand the game saw what I was doing or I would not have been able to achieve what I did."
What Boerner achieved, as did Imperatore, was a Division I college scholarship. Boerner accepted a scholarship offer Monday from Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. Imperatore committed Friday to Morehead State University in Kentucky.
While Boerner played in the shadow of high-scoring midfielders Emily Lawler and Shirin Khorsandian at Land O'Lakes, she was considered a top defensive player who earned a solid reputation for Tampa's Blackwatch Soccer Club.
Imperatore, a 5-foot-11 outside hitter, was River Ridge's dominant player and had 638 kills the past three seasons. She was a third-team all-state selection in Class 5A after leading the Royal Knights to the state semifinals.
Boerner helped Land O'Lakes win a district title and region quarterfinal in 1996. The Gators were a district runner-up this season. Boerner joins a first-year intercollegiate program that was previously a club team. That was one of the attractions of Samford, she said.
"I liked the fact that I will be helping to build a new program," she said. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I look forward to having a big impact on the program."
Boerner, an honor student with a 3.92 grade-point average, plans to study biology in preparation for medical school.
"The school is academically strong," she said. "That was the first thing I looked at."
Land O'Lakes coach Vicky King said Boerner has improved greatly since her freshman season.
"She didn't have a lot of experience when she came here as a freshman but she really dedicated herself to becoming a better player," King said. "She has an incredible work ethic and has worked really hard to get where she is at."
That, despite only scoring five goals and six assists in her two years as starter.
"She might have been overlooked sometimes because she didn't score," King said, "but we knew how valuable she was."
Imperatore started for four years in volleyball and basketball and could have pursued a scholarship in either sport, but felt her skills were better suited to volleyball.
"Carla likes the school and she likes the coach," said River Ridge coach Heidi Castelamare. "I'm real happy for her. I think it will be a great fit."
Castelamare, a coach in Pasco the past 12 years, said she believes Imperatore is the first player from the county to receive a full-ride, Division I scholarship in volleyball.
"Carla has really raised the level of play in our area," Castelamare said. "She was a player who was feared and intimated opponents with her hits.
"She had a big impact on our program. Her hard work and striving to be the best was seen by the other girls and they worked harder. They'd watch tape of Carla to try and see what she was doing and what they had to do to reach that level."