From left, Lee County soccer stars Nicole Polk, Danielle Brendel, Sarah Sheffield and Carsen Taylor smile after signing their college scholarships Wednesday while surrounded by friends and family. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
LEESBURG —Lee County made history this week when the first girls soccer players from the program signed scholarships to Division I schools.
The Lady Trojans soccer team has had a lot of success in recent years, qualifying for the state tournament every season, but it was a landmark day when Sarah Sheffield and Carsen Taylor inked letters-of-intent Wednesday during a ceremony that saw a total of four Lee County girls soccer players accept scholarships.
Sheffield, a defender, signed with Troy University in Alabama and Taylor, a midfielder, signed with Jacksonville State. Nicole Polk, who plays just about everywhere on the field for Lee County, accepted a scholarship to play for Division II Valdosta State, and Danielle Brendel, Lee’s formidable goal keeper, signed with Division II Columbus State.
“It’s exciting. We made history,’’ Sheffield said. “I feel like this is very good for the soccer program, and it will be good for the future girls soccer players at Lee County. It feels awesome. I feel accomplished.’’
Lee County coach Dave Baltenberger said this group was simply the best in Lee County history — as evidenced by the large signing and the history-making D-I signings.
“They are the best players we’ve had since I’ve been here,’’ said Baltenberger, who is in his sixth year as the coach at Lee. “To have two girls sign with Division I schools, and have four girls sign to play college soccer, that says a lot. It’s exciting for them, and it’s exciting for the other girls, who know that if they can do it, so can I.’’
Taylor said she chose Jacksonville State because she said it had just right feel about it.
“It’s like a small town feel and yet it’s a big university,’’ she said.
Polk said her trip to Valdosta State convinced her it was the right place to spend the next four years.
“I liked the coach and the girls on the team, and the atmosphere was good,’’ she said. “It just clicked.’’
So did these four players. They all clicked just right at Lee, where their senior season starts later this month.
The foursome is special.
“They have been starting since they were freshmen. They’re the best we’ve ever had,’’ Baltenberger said.
Sheffield is a fierce defender who has even scored six goals and handed out three assists in her career at Lee.
“She’s the anchor of our defense,” Baltenberger said. “When she’s back there, I don’t have to worry about anything. She’s very smart and very quick, and she plays hard all the time.’’
Taylor is a midfielder and a striker who is a remarkable scorer and an unselfish player. She has scored 54 goals and handed out 26 assists in her career at Lee, with 14 goals and 11 assists last year as a junior.
“She plays a smart game, and she scores a lot of goals and sets up a lot of goals,’’ Baltenberger said. “She’s fast and smart. All (four of them) have good soccer sense.’’
Polk is priceless. She plays everywhere but stars on offense, where she has scored 26 goals and handed out eight assists, including 10 goals and four assists last year as a junior.
“Nicole plays on offense, on defense, just everywhere,’’ Baltenberger said. “She’s the fastest player I’ve ever seen. She’s got a shot. She can score from anywhere. But she is so smart we play her on defense.
“It’s very unusual that you see a player who is that versatile who has a skill set. It’s amazing. She’s the most versatile player I’ve ever had.’’
Brendel’s goal-per-game average is under one score a game, and she has been a rock in the net for the past three seasons.
“She’s been in goal since she was a freshman,’’ Baltenberger said. “She is tough. It’s a tough position to play physically, but it’s even tougher to play that position mentally. It’s such a big responsibility to be the goal keeper, and she takes that responsibility and grabs hold of it.’’
All four are honor students at Lee, where Sheffield, who is undecided on her major, has a 4.27 GPA, and Polk, who will major in pre-vet, has a 3.9 GPA. Brendel, who will major in education, has a 3.6 GPA, and Taylor, who will major in early education, has a 3.5 GPA.