Sept. 10, 2015
By Brad Muller | More Features
Stevi Parker is one of the smallest players on the South Carolina women’s soccer team, but the 5’2” senior has a knack for coming up big in key moments.
“My dad has always told me to play big and it doesn’t matter how tall you are,” Parker said. “That is something I really carried with me, and I don’t really worry about how big my opponents are at all. As long as I’m the hardest worker on the field; that is all that matters.”
A record run to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament last year for South Carolina produced well-deserved national recognition for a stalwart goalkeeper and a dynamic freshman scorer, but it is the unheralded play of Parker that has drawn the accolades from those who know her the best – her teammates.
“When you look around in this locker room and see who brings such a valuable presence, it’s Stevi Parker,” said South Carolina Coach Shelley Smith. “It’s not just what she does as a player with her skills. She’s one of the shortest players on the team, but she plays as big as anyone. Her size is not a factor.”
Even with former All-American Sabrina D’Angelo in goal, and Savannah McCaskill earning SEC Freshman of the Year honors last year, it was Parker who was named the team’s Most Valuable Player last season for the second year in a row.
“I think it’s really important that my teammates view me the way they do,” Parker said. “It’s really great to be recognized, but the most important thing to me is the way my teammates feel about me, and always leading them by example is something I really strive for every game.”
Late in the game is when a lot of people start to get tired, and that’s just when I thrive out there.
“It says a lot for a player in this program to have been a two-time team MVP, especially when you’ve had players go on to be All-Americans in the program,” Smith said. “She’s also the role-model student-athlete. She is an excellent student all around, and she gives her best on and off the field. That has a lot to do with how much respect the team has for her as well.”
With graduation and a preseason injury to a key player on defense, Parker, now a senior, unselfishly changed positions from midfielder to defender this year to help the team by playing where she is needed most.
“We have a completely new back line this year, so it’s all about how we work together and communicate,” Parker said. “Things have been progressing really well, so I’m looking forward to, whichever position I play, helping the team do the best they can. It’s a completely different mind-set. I just told them wherever the team needs me is where I’ll play for them, and however I can help the team, that’s what I want to do.”
“Stevi is a true team player,” Smith said. “That’s why she is someone who is a leader on our team. The team is first in her mind, and she gives it all for her team and for herself. Moving to the back may not be her first choice, but when you ask her, 'what do we need,' she’ll put herself in the center back because she knows we need her there. Ideally we’d love to have her back in the midfield, but she’s someone, wherever we put her, will give us her best for the team. She will do what it takes to help this team win. She’s a great example of leadership, team unity and the support they have for one another.”
Her big play ability is always there on defense, but she has also been a clutch offensive player when needed, as evidenced by her game-winning goal at Auburn last year, in addition to her game tying goals with less than a minute in regulation against Texas A&M and again against Missouri in the SEC Tournament.
“Late in the game is when a lot of people start to get tired, and that’s just when I thrive out there,” Parker said. “Under pressure, I like to step up and help my team in big moments the best I can.”
Parker is also a hard worker off the field and has been named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll every year of her collegiate career.
“The most important thing is time management,” Parker said. “It’s really important for me to get good grades so I do my school work first and my soccer second. If I have time for other stuff, that’s great, but if not, then oh well. We really stress academics here. I think a lot of people look up to me because of my work ethic, not only in soccer, but in school. I think that will be really important for some of the young kids coming in, to develop that early and stay on top of their academics.”
Parker has a few game-day superstitions, which includes making sure her hair is always straight in a ponytail, and as she enjoys her final season in the garnet and black, she looks forward to taking on a leadership role.
“I think my role this year is more important than it has been in the past,” Parker said. “Now that I’m a senior, I’m being looked to more as a leader, not only by example, but vocally as well. It is something that has changed a little bit from the past. Communicating with the team, especially while I am on the field is really important for me.
“Mostly I just want to help my team win. I’m hoping to make history and maybe get an SEC (championship) ring. Whatever the team does, I’ll be proud of us.”
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