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Southeast Missourian girls soccer player of the year: St. Vincent's Storm French is Miss Versatility
St. Vincent girls soccer coach Dusty Wengert considered moving one of his most lethal weapons in the midfield to sweeper early in the season.
But the Indians got off to a hot start, outscoring their first six opponents 29-2.
Then St. Vincent suffered back-to-back losses to Perryville and St. Pius, and Storm French told her coach about fatigue she was experiencing in her legs during games. Wengert decided the time was right for a switch.
"We had tried two or three different girls out at that [sweeper] position before we made that move, and actually I didn't know about Storm's problems with her legs until the St. Pius game," Wengert said. "After that, it made sense to put her somewhere where she may not have as much running involved. And if she did, she had time to recover. It wasn't constant."
French, who relies heavily on her quickness to track down opponents, still could capitalize on her blazing speed as the sweeper. But she also wasn't constantly in motion, which helped eliminate the leg fatigue.
"I would have to make those sprints to get back to save the goals, but I'd also get the little rest in between so I was able to recover," she said.
French's presence at sweeper provided a boost for the Indians' defense. St. Vincent posted 10 shutouts over its last 19 games on its run to the Class 1 state championship game with French at sweeper.
"You had someone back there who you felt was skilled enough and confident enough in her own abilities to take on anybody," Wengert said. "When you have that in front of a freshman keeper, I think it builds your keeper's confidence as well. It's really undescribable. She, in my opinion, is one of the top three reasons we continued to play into June."
French's ability to effortlessly transition from a midfielder into a defensive force helped the Indians reach the Class 1 final four for the third consecutive season and is why she is the Southeast Missourian girls soccer player of the year.
"Here she was last year first-team all-state midfielder, second on the team with goals, always up there in assists with as many corners as she kicks and all of that," Wengert said. "Then she played a half of a season as a sweeper and she was so dominant there that she was defensive player of the year. It's almost unheard of. It's almost like give someone else a chance, Storm. I'm sure if I needed her to play forward for an entire season, she'd have 20-plus goals and wouldn't surprise me if she was first-team all-state as a forward, too. She knows the game from every aspect.
"She's just so versatile and so dynamic in everything that she does. She has the mindset to switch it on and off for whatever position she is. It's really remarkable to watch."
St. Vincent junior Kayla Seabaugh marvels at French's ability to control the middle of the field.
"Her vision is outstanding," Seabaugh said. "She's so fast. She's able to control without really even having to say anything to anybody."
French never missed a beat on the defensive end. She patiently waited for attackers to make a move before stabbing at the ball to knock it away, and her speed allowed her to keep forwards in front of her.
"I like to be in the defense," French said. "You get a whole new perspective on the game. It's enjoyable.
"You have an offensive mind and a defensive mind, and I just kind of had to check out of my offensive mind for a little bit and start in my defensive mind. You have to get your timing down and know when and who to go at. You have to have a strong defense to talk to, and I think we had a very strong defense this year."
Wengert credited French's years of club soccer in St. Louis for her ability to contain charging forwards.
"Just the experience of constantly being tested by better players," he said. "She's taken everything in every game and learned from it. I think that's what probably makes her so special. She'll take an instance where maybe she did do something wrong and she'll put that in her memory bank and I guarantee she will never make the same mistake twice."
French, who scored 12 goals and assisted on nine others, remained an important part of the Indians' offense after the switch to sweeper. She would pick her spots when she'd carry the ball up the field and let Seabaugh, who plays stopper, cover the back of the defense. The two juniors have played together for years and used their familiarity to time their runs to provide a spark from the defense.
"She made me feel really comfortable back there and she and I know each other so well that we can switch," Seabaugh said. "I know when she's going to go up and she knows when I'm going to go up so we can cover with each other. I felt a lot more comfortable being a little more offensive when she was back there to cover me."
French also handled the majority of the corner kicks for the Indians, something that paid off in the postseason. St. Vincent scored the game-winner against St. Pius in the district title game off a French corner.
French and the Indians earned their second trip to the state championship game in three years but fell to Springfield Catholic 3-2 on a scorching afternoon. French, who has won a championship medal, third-place medal and second-place medal, said she isn't disappointed as she looks back on this season.
"I think that this past season was the most exciting we've ever had because we had to do the unexpected and we had to beat the teams that no one thought we could beat," she said. "Everyone doubted us this year because we lost a bunch of players. This season was mostly based on proving people wrong because we knew we deserved to go back to state and we believed we could do it.
"There's no disappointment because I know we did everything we could and we were going to do everything we could because we believed in ourselves."
French decided early to remove doubt about her college plans with a verbal commitment to Southeast Missouri State, where she said she likely will play in the midfield. She didn't want the decision hanging over her head during the summer before her senior year of high school.
"I talked to the SEMO coach and I would visit down there and I really enjoyed what I saw and the team is really, really friendly," French said. "The coaches are so nice and I'm just really excited to play there."