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May 24. 2012 10:12PM

Milford's Andrews is national soccer player of year


Surrounded by her teammates, Milford High School's Morgan Andrews (in orange) accepts the 2011-12 Gatorade National Girls' Soccer Player of the Year award from professional star Ali Krieger (white shirt) Thursday morning. (NANCY BEAN FOSTER)

MILFORD — Long odds don't figure in Morgan Andrews' formula. The Milford junior, the 2011-2012 Gatorade National Girls' Soccer Player of the Year, embodies the anything-is-possible credo of the country she one day intends to represent on World Cup and Olympic soccer teams.

It's hard to doubt Andrews' ambition. After all, this dynamic 17-year-old was one of 360,000 scholastic soccer players considered for National Player of the Year. In Gatorade's 27-year history of recognizing talented players in 12 sports, she is the first-ever New Hampshire student-athlete so honored, and just the 20th to ever earn this distinction as a junior.

The 5-foot-9 forward learned of the honor Wednesday morning, just moments before attending a surprise junior and senior class assembly held in her honor. She was called forward in English class to take part in a video interview to be used for an upcoming school assembly about cyber bullying.

But it was all a ruse. U.S. Women's National Team attacking defender Ali Krieger, Andrews' role model who booted the decisive tie-breaking penalty kick in last summer's thrilling World Cup quarterfinal win over Brazil, entered the classroom to announce the news and escort a surprised and teary-eyed award winner to the assembly. The actual bullying assembly takes place today.

“One of my heroes just walked in the room and told me the news. I was speechless,” said Andrews, who was further awestruck when realizing she had a chance to practice soccer with Krieger after the award ceremony.

“I knew the (Gatorade Player of the Year) announcement was forthcoming. I never expected to get it. I'm only a junior. I wanted to see if one of my teammates won,” said Andrews.

With all due respect, Andrews wasn't thinking Milford soccer teammates. She also serves as captain of the U17 National team, upon which she played every minute of every game at midfield en route to winning the CONCACAF championship played in Guatemala earlier this month. The team is heading to Azerbaijan this fall.

She's also a regular participant at the U23 National Team's camp where players compete for coveted World Cup and Olympic roster spots.

The soon-to-be four-year Milford starter hopes to help her team win a state championship and then help her U17 team succeed at the World Cup. Not many folks share a similar goal.

Andrews was competing on national age-group teams before high school. As an eighth grader, Andrews was offered a scholarship by the University of Maryland. She verbally committed to Boston College as a sophomore.

“While my friends were getting ready for the first day of high school I was playing for my country against Germany on the U14 team,” said Andrews.

“She's always made us so proud. I've had goose bumps ever since I heard about this,” said Michelle Andrews, Morgan's mom. Morgan's older brothers are currently serving the country. Michael is an educator in Teach for America, while Matthew, a Special Forces Green Beret, is currently deployed at an undisclosed location.

“Hopefully, we'll play together on the same team someday,” said Krieger who, like Andrews banked frequent flier miles commuting between her Virginia high school and national team competitions. Nowadays she bounces back and forth between playing professionally in Germany and the U.S. National Team.

“It was stressful playing nationally and I was doing homework on road trips and rushing home to play high school,” said Krieger. “I wanted to give back to my high school community.”

Krieger was the Gatorade Virginia Girls' Soccer Player of the Year award winner for 2002-2003. Heather O'Reilly, Krieger's teammate on last summer's World Cup team, won the national award that year.

“We were having lunch one day a while ago and she (O'Reilly) told me, 'I'm sorry that I'm not sorry I won the award instead of you.' It's such a prestigious award, it still means a lot even nine years later,” said Krieger.

Entering her senior season this fall, Andrews is already a two-time Gatorade New Hampshire Player of the Year recipient, recognizing outstanding athletic and academic excellence as well as exemplary character.

She owns a 3.17 cumulative grade point average and started her own local charity, Kicks for Cans, where youngsters donate canned foods to a local food pantry in exchange for attending a summer soccer camp.

“Morgan is a testament to what this award entails,” Milford principal Bradford Craven said at the beginning of the assembly. “The exceptional talents and personality she embodies as a soccer player are also personified by her here at Milford on our field and in our school.”

In response, students rose for the first of three standing ovations afforded Andrews, seated beside Krieger, Gatorade and ESPN spokespersons. Banners proclaiming her achievement and illustrations of past award winners served as a backdrop.

Students in attendance learned that notable athletes such as Peyton Manning, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Derek Jeter won similar awards when in high school. Others, like Vince Carter, Chris Bosh and Krieger earned state Player of the Year honors, but not the ultimate national distinction.

Milford students seemed more impressed and touched by Andrews' humility, passion, purpose and integrity than having her mentioned in the same breath as athletic superstars. To them, she has always represented the school, town, state and country, in that order.

With her voice cracking in emotion, her eyes brimming with happiness, Andrews publicly thanked the school community, her teammates and her family.

“I love you guys and the feeling of family I find every time I come to school. I love being a New Hampshire-ite and representing my country, but I love even more coming here and seeing your smiling faces,” said Andrews.

“We love you too,” shouted a male voice from the crowd. Students stood and applauded.


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