For the past 12 seasons, Spring Hill’s Haleigh Frances McDuff has been a fixture on the local pitch, mostly anchoring center-midfield.
But after recently signing a national letter of intent, the Springstead senior will extend that streak to at least 13 years and counting at Division II University of West Alabama in Livingston, Ala.
The 5-foot-3, 130-pound McDuff will report in mid-August journeying nearly nine hours and 528 miles to Tigers’ campus under the tutelage of Scotland’s Graeme Orr.
McDuff first ventured on to the pitch at age 6 playing recreational soccer at the Anderson Snow Sports Complex in Spring Hill.
She played defense until she was 11, but has primarily played midfield since that time.
While still playing recreation soccer, McDuff branched out athletically at Powell Middle School.
With the Lady Panthers, McDuff participated in track and field for three seasons concentrating on the 800 and 1,600 meters while also playing setter in volleyball as a seventh- and eighth-grader.
McDuff outlined her love of soccer.
“It’s something I enjoy doing,” she said. “Dad got me out for soccer many years ago. He never forced me to play. I feel like when I’m playing soccer, I’m fighting with my teammates – there’s a common goal. It’s a great feeling.”
“I definitely like playing midfield, but I also like the offensive side,” noted the 18-year-old McDuff, who was born the older of two siblings in Dunedin to James McDuff and Patrice Barry. “It takes the whole team to win a game, but it seems certain players – mostly the scorers – get all the glory.”
Upon matriculating to Springstead, she solely focused on one sport: soccer.
She started on the school’s last district championship squad under Polo Furlong as a freshman before playing the past three seasons under Scott Wern.
“My biggest improvement was between my sophomore and junior seasons,” recalled McDuff. “That’s when I realized I’ve got to get into better shape. I changed my mindset and it made for a better future.”
Across four winters, McDuff totaled 25 goals and 32 assists for 82 career points.
“My goal all long was to go to college for soccer,” she said. “I really wanted to go out with another district championship as a senior. Even though that didn’t happen, I’m really proud of the team.”
Her finest individual campaign arrived last winter.
Down four starters due to injuries, McDuff picked up the scoring slack behind a personal-best 11 goals and career-high 15 assists.
Not bad considering McDuff missed five weeks due to a hamstring injury.
“It really sucked not playing that long, especially during my senior year,” lamented McDuff. “I wanted to be out there with my teammates, but I couldn’t do anything about it. It’s totally my fault.
“One weekend I was in a tournament in North Carolina and then when I came back for a high school match and I didn’t properly stretch out enough. I started the match, but it felt weird. I couldn’t run at all.”
Recapping her four years at SHS, three of which ended with her being selected All-County, “I really enjoyed my freshman year. That team won districts and was great,” detailed McDuff. “All in all, my teammates and I made a lot of memories together.”
Looking forward, McDuff understands the challenges that lie ahead.
“I have to work on getting in shape for college ball, that’s different than high school ball,” said McDuff. “I know I need to run more. It’s all about conditioning.”
In the classroom, McDuff is a fine student/athlete carrying a 3.45 grade point average. She’ll study exercise science and athletic training at UWA.
McDuff chose the Tigers after narrowing her choice to West Alabama and D-II Barton College in Wilson, N.C.
“I visited both campuses,” indicated McDuff on the selection process. “West Alabama was a pretty campus and I enjoyed the coaches and the people there were so friendly; it felt a lot like home.”
The Tigers’ coaching staff didn’t make any brash promises.
“They told me that I’d have to work hard to earn my spot,” McDuff recalled. “I don’t want to be handed anything. I’m OK with having to earn my playing time.”
On leaving the nest, “I wanted to leave Florida, but I still wanted my dad to be able to see me play,” added McDuff. “I’m super excited for the opportunity, though I’ll miss all my friends here.”
If McDuff isn’t on the pitch, she’s usually working at her father’s restaurant, The Boston Cooker on Spring Hill Drive in Spring Hill.
“I stay pretty busy with soccer and work,” McDuff said. “That really doesn’t leave a whole lot of extra time.”
McDuff shared one of her best-kept secrets, saying, “When I was in fourth grade, I meet someone from England. I’ve always wanted to live in London; I’d love to travel there one day.”
Prior to prepping for graduation, McDuff would like to be remembered not for her stats, “but as someone people looked up to. I’d like to be remembered as a good person; someone my teammates and friends can trust - that’s extremely important.”
By the numbers: Springstead’s Haleigh McDuff
- Compiled by TONY CASTRO
YEAR G A TP
2010-11* 3 6 12
2011-12 6 4 16
2012-13* 5 7 17
2013-14* 11 15 37
TOTALS 25 32 82
* Denotes All-County selection.