Stephanie Hale regained her desire to play soccer in junior college. Her four-year school, Columbia (Mo.) College, has reaped the benefits in a big way.
Hale, a Vista Murrieta graduate, was Columbia's leading scorer and the American Midwest Conference player of the year, helping the second-year program to a conference championship and place in the NAIA women's soccer tournament.
Columbia, 16-2-1, plays at Vanguard University of Costa Mesa, 15-4-0, on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. in a first-round playoff game.
Hale, with 22 goals and 24 assists in 18 games, is second in the nation in both total points (68) and points per game (3.78). And she says her time at San Diego Miramar College has been instrumental in what she's done at Columbia.
"Coming out of high school, I wasn't sure I wanted to play soccer any more," Hale said in a phone conversation earlier this week, explaining that she felt like she had stopped improving as a player and "just didn't love playing as much any more."
But she was recruited by some San Diego-area JCs and decided to pay a visit to Miramar, whose coach, Sean Bowers, helped re-ignite her desire to play.
"I just remember him telling me, 'No matter what, you're going to leave here as a better soccer player.' And that's all I wanted," Hale said. "… I think I got more out of it than I had in the past. I learned how to push myself, I learned what it meant to be a team, and I think that's kind of what contributed to me choosing Columbia. I knew what I had there, and I knew what I wanted to build here."
Joining a fledgling program had its challenges — "It's hard to come into a program that really doesn't have any solid foundation yet," Hale said — but that was also part of the attraction.
"I kind of wanted to building something and leave an impact somewhere," she said. "I'd say, especially with the success this year as a second-year program, getting to the opening round of nationals, I've kind of been able to do that. So I feel very lucky."
A year ago, the first-year Columbia program went 10-10-0, reaching the AMC championship game. Hale was the team's No. 2 scorer with 10 goals and nine assists, but she was not satisfied with what she had done.
"I felt I had something more to work for," she said. "Not that I haven't been working hard, but I wanted to make a lasting impression."
And so she said she worked to improve both her attitude and her fitness.
"There was a little bit of frustration with last year, coming so close," she said. "… I knew how close we were, and I was kind of just looking for that breakthrough.
"And for me personally, I knew I wasn't as fit as I would like to be. So I kind of worked on that over the summer, and it's something I have really had in mind this season. And I think that's helped me impact the game more so than I have in the past."
Hale averaged 67 minutes per game this season, playing 85 or more minutes six times.
"I would say that's a small victory for me personally," she said. "Last year, I think I would have struggled to play a full 90 minutes at the level I have been playing."
And so, on Saturday, her career brings her back to Southern California, where she expects a solid turnout of supporters — "My parents, grandparents, aunts, some friends, old teammates. … I'm excited about that."
And, when she's finished with school at Columbia, she'll be back for good.
"The Midwest was an experience," she said, "but I'm ready to come home. I'm looking to grad schools, hopefully to study sports psychology."
( Story Courtesy of The Press Enterprise, Written By David Lasen)