Return to Sports
by Greg Talkington
(August 30) BRIDGEPORT -- Bridgeport girls soccer coach Deborah Reif has never been known for playing favorites.
Just ask her daughter.
"My mom coached me when I was younger, and if I wasn't one of the better players on the team, she didn't play me very often," said Vanessa Reif.
"I'd ask her why, and she'd tell me 'Hey, it's the coach's job to play the better players.'"
That coaching attitude might explain how a trio of virtual first-year players have made it into the starting lineup this season.
Better known as basketball and softball players, Erica Rome, Angie Handschumacher and Jaclyn Ross are now playing soccer.
Handschumacher played part of the season last year. Rome and Ross never booted a soccer ball until this year.
But it hasn't taken them long to learn the game.
"It took Erica about two weeks to master a skill it took me nearly 10 years to," said Vanessa Reif, who led the Indians in assists in 1997.
"She's an amazing athlete."
While the new girls bring loads of athletic ability to the team, coach Reif says their prior successes in other sports haven't made them arrogant.
"The first thing you notice about them is that they're willing to listen and learn," Reif said. "Obviously being brand new, it's going to take them awhile to pick up on the intricacies of the sport.
"But they do whatever is needed to learn the game."
Last season's leading scorer, junior Lauren Blaney, concurred.
"They are willing to accept our advice," Blaney said.
"If we tell them they're doing something the wrong way, they're willing to change it and not question it."
Both coach Reif and Blaney said there's one more thing that makes the new trio special.
"They have a real desire to win," Reif said. "I think they're all the type of kids who would rather win than be the star."
Ross, Rome and Handschumacher, along with Amanda Stanley, Andrea Rome and Tressa Lucas, have been three-sport teammates since middle school, when they led the Braves to five titles (two volleyball, two softball and one basketball) during their seventh and eighth grade seasons.
It was Stanley who first defected from volleyball to join the soccer team.
She immediately made her mark as a freshman.
"The kids kept telling me about a girl who had real soft hands and would be a good goalie," coach Reif said.
"That girl turned out to be Mandy Stanley."
She, along with Lucas, turned out to be the keys to bringing in the other girls.
"I came out and just loved it," Stanley said.
"Then I got Tressa to come out and we finally talked Angie into coming out.
"This year, we got the rest of them out."
Stanley didn't expect any trouble from the new girls.
"They're my friends and I know they're not like that," she said.
"I knew they would come in practice hard, play hard and do their best."
Ross didn't think she'd play so soon.
"I was real surprised because I'd never played soccer before," Ross said.
"But they have me playing fullback and that's a defensive position and I get some real physical action there.
"I really like it," Ross said.
"Basically it's like basketball, where I like to play tough defense too."
The fact that all her friends were playing was the deciding factor for Ross, who had played volleyball as a freshman.
"Erica and I decided together to come out," Ross said.
"Everyone else was going to, so we decided we might as well, too," she said.
"I'm glad we did. There's a lot more action in soccer. Plus, it's a great way to stay in shape for basketball."
Coming in new, Ross didn't know how she would be accepted by the older players.
But so far, things have worked out fine.
"They've been great," Ross said. "They've all been helpful in showing us how the game is supposed to be played."
The meshing of the old and the new has been successful thus far.
Led by senior tri-captains Reif, Amy Miller and Jaclyn Waugh, along with Blaney, the Indians won their first three games, including an impressive 2-1 win at Parkersburg.
Senior Kim George, along with juniors Lori Paugh, Janette Schuessler, Brandy Sypolt and sophomores Lucas and Suzanne Burns have all played a big part in the team's success.
"I think soccer is one of the more team-oriented sports there are," said Reif, a golfer during her college days at Iowa State.
"I told all of them before the season that if they couldn't play in the context of the team and wanted to be a star, they should try a more individualized sport," the coach said.
As of now, nobody has taken her up on the suggestion and she's quite thankful for it.