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Nature Coast

Girls Soccer Player of the Year

TONY CASTRO Hernando Today correspondent
Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 04:27 PM

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There's an old adage in life about being in the right place at the right time.

And when student-athletes diligently train for a shot at a starting position at precisely the moment when an incumbent goes down due to injury, well, you have the scenario created for Nature Coast goalkeeper Samantha Lynn Oliveira.

No one knew that 2010-11's All-County goalie, NCT's Jeri Loffler, would severely injure a knee enough to miss the entire prep soccer season.

Fortunately, the Lady Sharks didn't have to look far for her backup. Oliveira, who hadn't played a minute between the pipes at the varsity level, was chomping at the bit for an opportunity to play.

Not only did the 5-foot-4 goalie take over the position — she became a dominant force.

How much so? In 21 varsity matches, the Lady Sharks permitted 21 goals — or one goal per game, the same average NCT permitted during the 2009-10 season.

In the process, the first-year keeper etched 10 shutouts — two away from the school record of 12 in 2007-08.

Oliveira's play enabled a NCT program that had suffered seven straight district first-round losses to reach the district final.

Just as crucial, NCT attained a trip to the coveted regional playoffs for the first time and even captured a thrilling regional quarterfinal match in double overtime against Gainesville-Eastside, 3-2.

The previously defensive-minded Lady Sharks found an offense to score a school-record 82 goals. Seventeen different players had a hand in the team's budding scoring effort.

As a result, NCT set a school record with eight wins in a row en route to a glossy school record 17-3-1 won-lost-tied slate.

Along the way, NCT solved Springstead twice for its first-ever undisputed Hernando County championship in nine seasons.

The county's opposing mentors were so impressed with the Lady Sharks' campaign, eight of 11 starters were named to the 2011-12 All-County Team alongside third-year head coach Lisa Masserio taking Coach of the Year.

Masserio praised every team member's contributions, beginning with the unanimous selection for Hernando County's Player of the Year — Oliveira.

"There's not much that intimidates her," said Masserio, who improved to 32-20-8 overall. "Even though she was new to the varsity level, 2-3 years ago she led her club team to the President's Cup in Oklahoma.

"Her biggest asset? She has a lot of mental toughness. … She's already a very complete player … does a lot of training on her own."

Oliveira "has a lot of athleticism," said Springstead's first-year skipper Scott Wern. "Watching her play she looked like a seasoned veteran — not a first-year varsity keeper."

Oliveira has "an ability to get people to support her," Wern added. "She commanded a lot of respect."

One mentor even compared the first-year Oliveira to legendary English keeper Gordon Banks.

"I saw her make a lot of Gordon Banks-type saves," said Hernando mentor Rick Ahrens. "Saw that happen more than a few times … has great anticipation."

"I thank the entire team for getting Player of the Year," Oliveira said. "They were my support system along with my many coaches," she added, referring to Masserio, assistant coach Lou Wendelstedt, goalie trainer Daniel Garcia, and competitive coaches George Arroyo and Anthony Brooks.

"Even my tae kwon do instructor helped me become a better player," Oliveira said, referring to James MacKenzie. "And I owe a lot to my family; they'd drive me two-three times a week for training. They've always been there in every aspect of my development."

Oliveira was born in Hudson as the older of two children to John and Dawn Oliveira.

The Oliveiras have called Hernando County home for 11 years.

Oliveira's athletic roots stem from her playing soccer at 6 years old for Fred Poholek's recreation team at the Anderson Snow Sports Complex.

"I started on the field and one day Coach asked if anyone was interested in playing goalie," recalled the 16-year-old keeper. "I looked around and raised my hand — that's what started me down this path."

Demonstrating her athletic prowess, Oliveira also played softball. She started on the diamonds when she "was 8-9 years old."

In middle school, Oliveira played softball as a sixth-grader at Powell before transferring to Explorer K-8.

At Explorer, Oliveira played volleyball and softball for two seasons before matriculating to NCT.

She played third base and pitched at NCT as a freshman. A nagging right shoulder kept her away from playing softball this past spring.

Prior to last winter, Oliveira continued to hone her craft in soccer playing for a competitive team out of Tampa.

"Going into last year I really wanted to take the varsity spot (at keeper)," recalled Oliveira on her preparation prior to the season. "I was going to do whatever it takes."

Oliveira's presence blended in nicely with several of the veterans on the team.

It didn't hurt that NCT exploded out of the gates with eight wins and a draw through its first nine matches.

After a 5-0-1 start at Shark Tank Stadium, visiting Citrus High applied a 4-0 shutout for the team's first setback.

"In our first few games we didn't know how to play together," recalled Oliveira. "As we kept playing we began to jell. After a while I started getting comfortable with my teammates. It was a great feeling to know that even if I messed up, my teammates had my back."

As far as seasonal highlights, Oliveira pointed to NCT's 3-0 and 3-1 nods over archrival Springstead. Those wins served as the first-ever triumphs by the Lady Sharks over the Lady Eagles.

"Beating Springstead that second time to win the county was nice," recalled Oliveira. "The other highlight was reaching regionals."

Though NCT drubbed Eustis in the first meeting in Brooksville, 4-1, the Lady Panthers followed by trimming the Lady Sharks in the 3A-6 title game (3-1) and then eliminating them in the regional semis (5-2).

"Eustis was very good," summed up Oliveira. "They had a bunch of girls that are playing soccer in college. For next year, we're going to have to train a lot and make some sacrifices in order to beat those guys."

Oliveira isn't just known for her goaltending. In the classroom, Oliveira carries a 3.7 grade-point average in the medical cluster at the California Street campus.

"I'm still a couple years from graduation, but I'd like to study occupational therapy or maybe psychology," pointed out Oliveira, without a true compass heading for the future. "I really like to help people and solve problems."

As far as hobbies, Oliveira asserts that her taekwondo training is perfect for soccer.

"I've only done it for a few months but there's a lot of flexibility involved," said Oliveira.

As far as her future, Oliveira understands that the Lady Sharks are no longer an unknown entity entering 2012-13.

"I realize I have to raise my game," she said. "I train 2-3 times a week right now. I train not just for next season, but for college, too. I put in long days. When coach says no more, I say 'Let's go longer.'

"I really do miss playing softball," added Oliveira. "But every time I threw the ball this year, it hurt, so I shut it down. I've been to therapy since and it's much better. If I came back, I'd probably play just third base …

"Right now, my heart is with soccer. I don't want to jeopardize what we have."

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