Heather Sanders is a standout on the soccer field.
You can tell that from watching her play - she is athletic, she has good ball skills, can move the ball on the dribble or pass and she has a powerful and accurate shot.
She also stands out because she is an offensive player playing defense. And she was able to make that transition work for her Greencastle-Antrim team for the past two seasons.
Sanders - who was strictly a midfielder in her career before switching to center defender - is the Public Opinion Player of the Year.
"She was playing defense for us because of a need we had, and she never complained," G-A coach Greg Cole said. "She sees the field so well back there. We thought she'd be able to distribute the ball from there and still be able to get her scoring chances."
The plan worked very well. In the two years Sanders played the position, the Blue Devils won 21 games, more than any other two-year stretch in their history.
Sanders said, "I'd always played midfield, but I just play wherever the coach wants me to. I had to make some adjustments. You see the field a lot differently from there and, obviously I had to worry about defending a lot more."
What made Sanders unique for a defender was her ability to take the ball on her foot and get upfield herself. Most defenders will try to get rid of the ball quickly, either finding an open teammate nearby or thumping a clearance upfield.
Cole said, "She had the confidence to
"I don't think teams were ready for it," Sanders said.
But eventually, opponents starting marking her, a tactic usually reserved only for offensive players.
Sanders said, "Usually they had a forward follow me wherever I went; I tried not to let it bother me."
Cole said, "There was a point in the season where we were lacking scoring and I moved her up to center mid for the Shippensburg game (a 2-1 overtime loss that ended a 5-0 start). That was my mistake. Heather and Ema were not happy. We talked about it and we agreed to let them do it the way we had been."
Sanders contributed to the Greencastle offense with her deadly free kicks. Of her 11 goals, eight came on direct or indirect kicks.
"She is a very good striker of the ball," Cole said.
Sanders did some extra work in the offseason and after practices with former G-A star Treavor Gelsinger, honing her shooting skills.
"In other years my shots went everywhere," Sanders said. "This year I got them on target because he changed my technique. He's an incredible player and really helped me."
That skill came in handy in the Blue Devils' biggest game of the season. Greencastle qualified for the District 3 Class AA playoffs for the second straight year, but faced a play-in game at Boiling Springs.
With the teams tied 2-2 and the game not quite halfway through the second half, Sanders lined up for an indirect kick from about 30 yards out. She thought it was a direct kick, so she was thinking shot all the way.
"I could see the keeper wasn't paying attention; she was trying to set up a wall," Sanders said, "so I just hit it right away. I hit it toward the upper left side."
The ball tipped off the goalkeeper's fingertips and into the goal for the game-winner in a 3-2 victory - G-A's first-ever district playoff victory.
"They had beaten us in previous seasons, so it was really nice to come back and get them," Sanders said.
Sanders will play this fall at West Virginia Wesleyan, a Division II school in Buckhannon, W.Va. Her coach has told her he wants her to play center midfield.
"He thought if I play to my potential I might be able to start," Sanders said. "That's what I'm hoping for."
Cole will not be surprised to see Sanders in a starting role.
"I've been blessed to have her on my team," Cole said. "I started coaching her when she was 11 or 12 and I could see her potential even then. With her desire to play the game, I knew it would be fun to watch her career."
Ed Gotwals can be reached at 262-4755 and firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @EdGotwalsPO.
Player of the Year
Name: Heather Sanders
Parents: Kathy and Eric Schanzenbacher
Interests: She likes to play other sports like field hockey and basketball, and hang with her friends.
Favorite team: Barcelona
Favorite player: David Beckham
Former club team: FC Locomotive of Hagerstown, Md.
College: West Virginia Wesleyan
Honors: 3-time P.O. First Team all-star; Mid Penn Colonial Division first team
Statistics: She scored 11 goals and had 5 assists For her career, Sanders scored 21 goals and had 10 assists.