US Youth Soccer ODP player Katie Cousins named National Player of the Year
FRISCO, Texas (June 12, 2014) — After both Jefferson Forest High School soccer teams successfully maneuvered through their conference tournaments, the girls squad gathered for a team breakfast before they would take on the boys side in a celebratory game.
At least that’s what they told junior midfielder Katie Cousins.
The 17-year-old Virginia high school standout and member of the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program (US Youth Soccer ODP) received a surprise from U.S. Women’s National Team defender Ali Krieger, who presented Cousins with the Gatorade National Girls Soccer Player of the Year award.
Receiving the honor caught Cousins off guard. The 17-year-old said she didn’t expect it and was shocked to see Krieger standing there to present the award to her.
“She handed me the award, and I didn’t even know it was for the nation. I had to ask one of my friends if it was for the nation or for Virginia,” Cousins said. “It was really cool, and I was really excited and shocked at the same time. It took me a while to process it all, but it was a really enjoyable day, and I’m glad I got to experience it.”
The award honors athletic achievement, academic excellence and exemplary character. A national panel selected Cousins from nearly 400,000 high school girls soccer players.
Cousins worked her way to the top of the list by developing her skills with US Youth Soccer ODP, her high school team and club teams in South Carolina and Virginia — including her current club, the Richmond Kickers.
After moving to Virginia in 2007 from South Carolina, where she began playing at age 4, Cousins eventually made the US Youth Soccer ODP Virginia team. The midfielder said US Youth Soccer ODP introduced her to some great friends, as well as a new level of play and game speed that taught her to play faster.
By working with Cousins for five years, Virginia technical director Gordon Miller has seen her grow as a player.
“Not only her technique has improved, but her awareness in a game has approved. She knows when to run. She knows when to sit in a space,” Miller said. “I’ve seen her game mature in terms of tactical awareness. Her technique has always been good. Now she understands the quickness of the game and how to position herself really well.”
Cousins said her time with US Youth Soccer ODP has been “a blast,” and she pointed out a trip to the 2012 US Youth Soccer ODP Championships with her Virginia team as one of her favorite soccer memories.
Along with interregional events, those experiences helped Cousins prepare for call-ins to several U.S. Youth National Teams.
“Coming together with new people that I haven’t really played with much, it forces me to figure them out quickly and learn what works best,” Cousins said. “When I go to National Team camps, it is the same exact same thing. I’m used to it, which helps out a lot and gets me going pretty quickly with the other players.”
Miller said Cousins, who is committed to play at the University of Tennessee, can always be counted on during games, but she is just as reliable off the field. He said the midfielder is a great teammate who is always willing to help out wherever she is needed.
Cousins’ helpful hand isn’t limited to her soccer team, as she is very involved in her community. She is a leader of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at her school and participates in her church youth group. The junior also volunteers with her soccer team to work at an autism awareness race, in addition to playing in the band and occasionally helping coach younger soccer players.
While her love for soccer is strong — she was a little disappointed they never got to scrimmage the Jefferson Forest boys team — Cousins realizes the importance of activities off the field.
“It really has helped form the person that I am,” she said. “I’m going to try to play soccer as long as I can, but that’s not all that I’m going to be doing. I should be getting involved in stuff that I might want to do later on in life.”
Those mature words won’t surprise Miller, who described Cousins as “an all-around great kid.” And it’s her completeness in multiple facets of life that helped earn her national recognition.
“I think it’s a great honor for her,” Miller said. “She comes from a small town, Lynchburg. For her to get the Gatorade Player of the Year is an outstanding tribute to her as a player and as a person. It couldn’t have gone to a nicer kid and a nicer family.”
The award, which recognizes not only outstanding athletic excellence, but also high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the field, distinguishes Cousins as the nation's best high school girls soccer player. A national advisory panel comprised of sport-specific experts and sports journalists helped select Cousins from more than 370,000 high school girls soccer players nationwide. Cousins is now a finalist for the prestigious Gatorade Female High School Athlete of the Year award, to be presented at a special ceremony prior to The ESPY Awards in July.