By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Alicia Page says she wants to be a math teacher when she’s done with college. When she was a high school freshman, the numbers didn’t seem to add up. She was only 14 years old, how could she be on varsity? Those girls were 18; bigger, stronger, faster. Egg Harbor Township coach Christian Wiech surely was making a mistake. Was she ready for that kind of challenge?
Ready or not, Wiech said he was willing to take a chance on bringing the freshman up to varsity because she had a skill set that would have been wasted on the junior varsity level. The move didn’t pay dividends that year — numbers-wise — but over time it did, as Page proved to be a solid striker who finished her career with 15 goals and 17 assists, including nine of each as a senior.
“Obviously, to be a four-year varsity player you have to have a high soccer IQ and you have to be able to play up a level in terms of physicality. Alicia, even though she’s not the biggest player, plays big, plays strong and has great balance. She was our leading points scorer this year and is one of the top 15 highest goal scorers in school history for a career, so she does find the back of the net. But she really thrives as a set-up player,” Wiech said. “One of the things we were talking about in the Cape-Atlantic League American Conference All-Star meeting was that a lot of the forwards this year were selfless types of players. They racked up a ton of assists — whether you talk to the Millville coach or the Vineland coach — it was an interesting breed of forward this year. We didn’t have that go-to-goal, it’s ‘me, me, me.’ And Alicia personified that perfectly. She wanted to dish the ball off, she wanted to draw defenders to her. She understood her role as a single-high forward at times. She knew how to create space for herself and her teammates, and because of that we had a very successful offensive season. This was our third-highest goal-scoring season in school history with 53 goals.”
“Freshman year I was very nervous. I knew the level was going to be very different from what it was in middle school. I went in very intimidated because there were some girls who were four years older than me. I was only 14 and some of them were 18. I remember just always trying my best to compete at that level. Me and my friends would be dying (after sprints) but we’d push ourselves really hard. I was very happy with the outcome of my freshman year because I played on varsity,” said Page, one of EHT’s senior captains this season. “(Coach Wiech) would always talk to me and tell me, ‘hey, don’t worry, you’ll get your chance. I love what you do and eventually you’ll see the field.’ He was always very encouraging and I knew he wanted me to feel comfortable when I was a freshman on varsity.”
age began to show signs of what she could do her sophomore year, when she scored five goals and added three assists while leading the Eagles to 11 wins, including a berth in the Cape-Atlantic League Tournament. Even last year, in a covid-shortened 11-game schedule, she finished with five assists.
“More than anything else, her game has grown. Sometimes players plateau, but one thing I’ve been most impressed with when it comes to Alicia is her understanding of how to take on defenders and when to take on defenders matured drastically this year, which was impressive to see. That was one of the keys to our success,” Wiech said. “She, by far, was one of our more technical players, and that’s not an easy thing at the high school level, to understand your depth and the speed of play, spacing, and to understand how to play balls into space with the right speed of play to match the speed of play around her. It’s a little bit of an art, and I think Alicia’s four years of varsity experience really helped with that. I find the kids who play more high level soccer have more time to adapt to that. Her game really benefitted from being around (the higher level) as a freshman and sophomore. And in a school as big as ours, it’s not too common that we have underclassmen on the varsity, so that’s a testament to her.”
Page said she loved everything about this season. For one, it was a full season, unlike last fall, and all the girls in her grade level were on varsity, unlike when she was a freshman and one of the few underclassmen on the big club.
“A lot of my friends were on JV still, even through my junior year, so this year I was much more comfortable because all my friends were around me,” said Page, who has given a verbal commitment to continue her soccer career and education at Ursinus College. “This year was one of my best years. Even though a lot of the players were new to varsity, it was a very satisfying year because of how we came from a rough patch in the beginning of the year. I think our team did well considering everything that has been going on with covid. This year was really like a family because we all love each other, and a lot of the girls I played with were girls I’ve been playing soccer with since I was 5. And the sophomores and juniors we had were amazing.”
Not only did her soccer skills develop, but so did Page’s leadership, as she was named one of the team’s captains early on this season.
“Not every player cares about being a leader, but Alicia certainly did. She wanted to be a leader of this team and demonstrate not only a winning mentality but the technical skills, the tactical skills. She also wanted to demonstrate the importance of team and the importance in the way you communicate with each other — giving direction as opposed to giving criticism,” Wiech said. “In games when she didn’t get the ball played to her feet correctly, she’s still say, ‘hey, next time.’ I commend her for that level of maturity and that level of leadership, which is sometimes rare. Particularly the last couple of years, with everything going on, for her to have such compassion for her teammates has been impressive to me.”
Page said she that in her position of leadership she felt it was important that other players felt comfortable around her, and in their role on the team.
“For me, as a captain, I always wanted to be encouraging. I never wanted to raise my voice at somebody or degrade somebody and tell them to do better in a mean tone. I never yelled at somebody, and that’s who I wanted to be. I wanted to be an encouraging captain and make them feel like they could do it,” she said. “I learned that I love having a good bond with my teammates. If you feel like you are uncomfortable with people on the team, that’s the way you’ll play because you’re nervous about what they think of you. And if you mess up you worry that they will be mad at you when you’re already mad at yourself. So, I feel like through all my years of soccer, a good bond with my teammates always makes me play better. I feel like that creates a good environment and that’s something I’ll always strive for.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays