Girls soccer: Valpo’s Grace Withrow always in position to succeed
By Brandon Vickrey Post-Tribune correspondent October 23, 2013 11:58PM
Valparaiso's Grace Withrow charges toward the ball during a match on Tuesday, August 27, 2013 at Chesterton. | Michael Gard/For Sun-Times Media
Class 2A SB St. Joseph Semistate
Schedule: Saturday — Fishers (14-2-3) vs. Penn (16-4-1), 9 a.m.; Homestead (15-2-4) vs. Valparaiso (12-6-2), 11 a.m.; final, 5 p.m.
The skinny: There are no returnees from last season’s semistate — Valparaiso is coming off its first regional title since 2007, Homestead its first since 2008, Fishers its first and Penn its first since 2010. The Vikings, who played Homestead to a scoreless tie on Aug. 24 at the South Bend St. Joseph Invitational, have yet to win a semistate title. Homestead is seeking its first since 2003 and fourth overall, and Penn its first since 2007 and third overall. For reference, Fishers ended the regular season ranked No. 5 in the state coaches’ poll, Homestead No. 16 and Penn was honorable mention.
Next: Winner vs. Evansville Harrison Semistate winner in state championship, 2:30 p.m., Nov. 2, Michael A. Carroll Track & Soccer Stadium, IUPUI, Indianapolis
— Michael Osipoff
Updated: November 25, 2013 1:27PM
When Valparaiso junior Grace Withrow entered her freshman year, her approach to soccer suddenly changed. Rather than taking a back seat to basketball as it had for most of her life, soccer quickly became one of her favorite aspects of high school.
“Basketball has always been more competitive for me and soccer has always been the more fun sport to take my mind off basketball,” Withrow said. “When I hit high school, soccer became the best part of my high school life. Basketball has been a little rough with our record, but soccer has definitely kept me sane and kept me happy.”
The Vikings will make their first semistate appearance since 2007 on Saturday against Homestead, thanks in part to Withrow’s leadership and versatility.
After making her varsity debut as a sweeper, Withrow moved to forward as a sophomore. This season, she has continued to bounce around the pitch. She started the year playing defense before adjusting to the attacking mid-forward slot for the postseason.
“It’s definitely been fun to try out a bunch of different spots,” she said. “I think the switch has been a good thing for us. We’ve been winning games. It’s difficult to transition at times, but I just want to do what is best for the team.”
Regardless of what position she is playing, Withrow has made an impact.
“She has been very good in the defensive area,” Valparaiso coach Rob Cespedes said. “We thought with the amount of energy and the ball-skill that she has, she was up for the challenge of playing in that more offensive spot. Near the end of the season, we decided to play her more on offense, and it has been effective.”
After playing with a large group of upperclassmen each of the last two years, Withrow has imparted some of her soccer wisdom on this year’s freshmen and sophomores.
“I feel like I’ve been a junior for three years now just because I’ve been around older kids all my life,” she said. “It’s been awesome for me because it’s given me the chance to relate to the younger girls and be empathetic toward them.”
Fittingly, it was Withrow’s goal that propelled the Vikings to a 1-0 victory over Crown Point in the regional championship, snapping a two-year streak of losing to the Bulldogs in the regional final.
“Her heart and energy makes her special,” Cespedes said. “She plays for her teammates. There is a very strong connection between her and every single one of them. Her leadership, ball ability and the way she sees the game is a great combination for a soccer player.”
Withrow takes that same positive energy with her into the classroom, including her Spanish IV honors course, which is taught by Cespedes.
“She’s got a great attitude and she works hard,” he said. “It reflects both in the classroom and on the field. She will develop into a good citizen.”
Withrow is focused on obtaining the three wins that separate the Vikings from a state title.
“This year has definitely been different,” she said. “The talent is probably not as good as we’ve had the last couple of years, but we’ve really come together. It’s been one of the most fun seasons I’ve ever had.”