By Nick Delisio
OXFORD, Ohio - The greater Southwest Ohio area has always been a hotbed for producing great soccer players. The most notable to reach national attainment include former Saint Ursula Academy star and former WPS (Women's Professional Soccer) player Tori Huster, and United States National Team star Heather Mitts. Four more Southwest Ohio natives, all freshmen for the Miami University RedHawks, hope to follow Tori and Heather down a road to major soccer success.
Morgan Beck, a bubbly young midfielder who stands at a diminutive 5-foot-2 inches tall, hails from the miniscule town of Mariemont, Ohio. "What I love about home is that it's a really tight community and we keep it really pretty. We have a place called the square where we have ice cream, pizza shops and movies that are all in walking distance which is great for hanging out with everyone."
Beck was a High School All-American and Southwest Ohio's Division III Player of the Year as a senior for Mariemont. Her prestigious high school career has carried over into her first year at Miami. She has appeared in all eight games for the RedHawks, notching her first career assist Sept. 7 in a 4-0 victory against Austin Peay. Beck is a very adept passer in the midfield where assistant coach Nate Lie says "she can turn any defender out there."
Beck enjoys playing for the RedHawks, but that's not the only thing she likes about the prestigious University. "I absolutely love the campus here. I came to visit in the fall when the leaves were orange and everything looked so nice. It also has a great Education program." Morgan "The Munchkin", who received the nickname due to her voice similarities to the famed characters from The Wizard of Oz, feels her goals at Miami have only started to come to fruition. "I hope to start a bunch of games here the next few games, and hopefully help win this team a MAC title!"
Like Beck, fellow freshman midfielder Sydney Neal enjoyed an illustrious high school career as she was an All-American and State Champion for Bishop Fenwick High School in Middletown. Neal credits her tough regiment run at Bishop Fenwick into making her the player she is today. "Fenwick was very competitive; we had conditioning and open fields in the summer which were very intense. Also I played against the other four freshmen from around Cincinnati that play here at Miami, so that was some good competition."
However, Neal's journey from Bishop Fenwick star to Miami has been extremely difficult. She has endured three torn ACL's the past four years, two of them coming after already being committed to play for the RedHawks. Neal has the utmost respect for Miami's coaches for sticking with her through her trial of knee operations.
"I love the coaches and the training staff here. The coaches and I have a special bond because they talked to me through all my surgeries, they believed in me and trusted me enough to stick with me so I could still come to Miami to play," Neal said. For now Neal is planning on redshirting her freshman year, but is making great progress working every day with head trainer Anna Gearhart. Neal has grown so accustomed to the art of physical therapy through these injuries, that it actually inspired her to major in it.
A product of Kings Mill Kings High School, Haley Walter does everything fast. Everyone who follows Kings sports knows this because she still holds the school record for the fastest 400 meter dash. She also quickly achieved something in her third week of playing collegiately that many players don't over a four year career. The day after she scored a goal and handed out the game-winning assist against Belmont University Sept. 2, Walter was named the Mid-American Conference Player of the Week. This was not the first time Walter played the hero however, as she scored both go-ahead goals against Wisconsin-Milwaukee a week earlier to win the game for the RedHawks, 4-2.
Walter has done anything but let this early success get to her head, as she knows as well as anyone that soccer is a team sport. "It was very surprising, but it was very exciting to win player of the week. It's been a great experience to be a part of this team, and I know I would be nothing without all my teammates."
Walter clearly wouldn't be nothing without soccer and her teammates. She earned Academic All-American honors and was a member of the National Honor Society at Kings, and felt Miami would be a great fit for not only soccer, but academics too. "It was the perfect scenario because I got to play soccer at a university I love." Everyone else involved in the Miami community feels she is a perfect fit as well, because she is contributing a big part to something very successful that is Miami RedHawks soccer.
A native of Hamilton, Ohio, freshman midfielder Lauren Mathews knows how to find good entertainment around the exciting metropolis of Cincinnati. "I love country music, so my friends and I buy the mega ticket for Country Fest every summer." Mathews also has a lot of fun competing in athletics. She earned four letters in soccer and three in basketball for Hamilton Badin High School. Mathews helped guide her club team, the Cincinnati Soccer Alliance, to state titles in 2009 and 2010, as well as a national title appearance earlier this year.
Mathews has also contributed a lot of nice things for the RedHawks during their non-conference slate. She has played significant minutes off the bench in all eight games so far, and registered her first career goal in a 5-0 drubbing of IUPUI on Aug. 19. Mathews has great composure for a freshman and it shows in the way she talks about her college experience so far. "It's definitely exceeded my expectations. I love the feel here, I'm glad I picked here, and I've told anyone that asked me that I'm so happy with my decision and I wouldn't have chosen anywhere else."
These four talented freshmen have already made a big difference in the RedHawks play on the field, while adding to the great chemistry and attitudes the unit has off it. Still, they feel they are only getting started. "We're here to make our mark on Miami Soccer", a beaming Mathews stated. Beck echoed the confident remark, "We aren't going to win one title together, we're aiming for multiple MAC titles to show that local players are as good as anybody out there."