Southeast Missourian girls soccer player of the year: St. Vincent's Storm French served as a calming force on Indians' defense

Sunday, July 15, 2012
St. Vincent senior Storm French will play at Southeast Missouri State in the fall. (Laura Simon)

Storm French backpedaled as a Notre Dame forward worked the ball down the right sideline. French was the lone defender between the forward and St. Vincent's goalkeeper.

The Notre Dame player cut to make her move, but French slammed her legs together to thwart the pass and knock the ball out of bounds, which allowed the Indians' defense to recover.

Crisis averted.

"The thing with her, she was always there," Notre Dame junior Taylor Rinda said. "She's always where she needs to be."

French spearheaded an Indians defense that allowed an average of 1.24 goals per game, including seven shutouts in 25 games. The senior's defensive abilities combined with her skill on corner kicks make French the repeat Southeast Missourian girls soccer player of the year.

"The funny thing is she's back-to-back player of the year for the Southeast Missourian, and she didn't even start as a freshman," St. Vincent coach Dusty Wengert said. "Her first game out, she didn't start. She was always that quiet, withdrawn person early on in her high school days. But man, you put her on a soccer field, she spoke with her ability."

French started playing soccer while in kindergarten and began traveling to St. Louis in fourth grade to compete on club teams, where she steadily refined her skills. All her work culminated last fall when she signed early to continue her career at Southeast Missouri State.

"When we were little, we couldn't even dream about playing in college," she said. "I'm never going to go to college and play soccer. That's crazy. Now it's like all right, I'm going to be there in about four weeks."

French played sweeper, who serves as the last line of defense before the goalkeeper for St. Vincent. Her acumen is more impressive considering she didn't start playing the position until last year. But she leaned on her previous soccer experience to star at the position. The Missouri High School Soccer Coaches Association named her its Class 1 defensive player of the year for the second consecutive season last month.

"For somebody that had to be an offensive-minded person for the first two years then to have to make that transition to a defensive player after that, she just understands when to take a chance, when not to take a chance, when she has to be in recovery mode," Wengert said. "She just understands the game and when to pick her spots to be more aggressive than not."

St. Vincent senior Storm French finished with seven goals and 13 assists for the Indians this season.

French admits her experience playing in the midfield likely helps her to read opposing players because she knows the moves she'd make to get around a defender.

"You can tell by their face where they're looking," she said. "You can kind of almost read their mind. If you can look at their feet too, you can tell which way they want to turn. It just comes easy to me to predict that.

"You have to watch their face because if there's someone coming on their right, they're going to be looking to their right. You know they're going to pass it to their right. If they're just staring at you, you know they want to go one-on-one. You have to watch yourself because you don't want them to cut on you."

French makes those split-second decisions look easy. It's also the part of the game she enjoys most.

"There's so much more to soccer than people think," she said. "It's not just kicking a ball around and scoring goals. There's a lot of thought and strategy put into it."

One place on the field where French loved to use strategy was on corner kicks. She would trot from her sweeper position to the corner, take the ball in both hands and spin the ball to the perfect spot before putting it down. She'd casually raise her hand before lining a kick toward the box, where she often found teammate Kayla Seabaugh, who will play at Missouri State in the fall.

"I always tell my mom when we talk about soccer, I always tell her I hope someone can find my head as well as she can," Seabaugh said about French. "I hope there's somebody on Missouri State's team that can find my head as well as she can because that's my favorite part of the game."

French took over corner kicks from Amanda Wengert during French's freshman year because Wengert was a defender, and coach Wengert didn't want to briefly weaken his defense by having Amanda Wengert take the corner kicks. So he started having French work on them, and she quickly won the job.

"Storm, with having such a great left foot, we started it out as just maybe she'll kick the ones where she can wrap it in with her left foot," coach Wengert said. "So we worked on those for a little while in practice. The next thing you know, we noticed, 'All right, if she's that good left-footed, how dangerous could she be on the right side?'"

French already proved her skills at corner kicks during her first two season, so coach Wengert said there never was any consideration given to not allowing her to continue to take them after she moved from the midfield to sweeper as a junior.

She moved to sweeper last season because she experienced fatigue in her legs during games. She made the move because it gave her more opportunities to rest for short periods during games instead of constantly running in the midfield.

French took off last summer, and the leg fatigue did not resurface this season. That led coach Wengert to consider moving her back to her natural position. She did play in the midfield a few times, including for a brief stint against Jackson. She responded by scoring a goal.

"Would our offensive attack been more potent with her as a midfielder? Yeah, you bet," coach Wengert said. "But it's almost in that case where we would have had to outscore teams. This year we were able to win some games 1-0, 2-1, 3-2 because of what Storm was able to solidify defensively for us."

He said he stopped toying with the idea when starting all-state goalkeeper Katie Mattingly suffered a broken wrist early in the season.

"You didn't want to put them in jeopardy and feel like they had to do it all without some help," he said about Mattingly's replacements. "An injury put her back there, and an injury probably kept her back there."

St. Vincent's Storm French clears the ball past Jackson's Jordan Myer during their game in May at Jackson. (ADAM VOGLER)

French didn't mind, as long as she kept playing.

"Being on the field is just fun for me," she said.

Despite not starting at the beginning of her St. Vincent career, she quickly became a mainstay for the Indians. She played a key role in their charge to the Class 1 state title her freshman year.

"Our entire freshman year, it was pretty much my most fun year because it was the most intense year," she said. "We were all just trying to prove ourselves because we didn't know who our coach was, we didn't know how he was like, how he wanted us to play as players."

French scored 20 goals during her sophomore season when the Indians finished third in the state.

She still managed 12 goals as sweeper last season, when the Indians lost in the Class 1 state title game.

French's senior season was the lone campaign that ended before the Class 1 final four. The Indians lost to eventual state champion St. Pius 2-0 in the district title game.

"It sucks that it only happened our freshman year because we came in here like, 'Yeah we're just going to win it all four years. It's going to be easy,'" she said about the state title. "Nope that's not really how it works."

French already has moved on from the loss to St. Pius. She's focusing on the future and has spent her summer following the conditioning program for Southeast.

"They stress on being fit," she said. "You'll have to prove to yourself you belong there. The more fit you are, the more your team is going to love you."

She said the Southeast coaching staff has not told her where they anticipate her playing. There's been talk of returning to the midfield or staying on defense. Maybe even some time at forward. French said she doesn't care, as long as she gets the chance to earn playing time.

"I'm excited, but at the same time I'm nervous because I don't know what it's going to be like at all," she said. "I don't like going into the unexpected. ... It's going to be a change, and change can be good."

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