After spending the last eight years putting on a clinic in how to work harder than everyone else on the field, Stevi Parker is in a much different role this fall.
Parker, the former standout at Pennridge and then the University of South Carolina is back with her old high school team this season, serving as an assistant coach with the Rams. The 2016 graduate of South Carolina isn’t able to step out on the pitch and terrorize the SOL like she did in her playing days, but Parker has been an invaluable asset for Pennridge.
“It was a good four years of school, but I missed my family and being back in the area and I felt like I had some unfinished business at the school,” Parker said. “The team I played on in my senior year made it to the state championship but unfortunately didn’t win, so I wanted to come back and hopefully make a difference that could lead this school to a state title.”
Never the biggest, fastest, strongest or most talented player on the field, Parker made her name with an unmatched work ethic. That carried over to the SEC, and the former midfielder added quite a bit that’s helping in her new role.
“I learned a lot of tactical things so I feel like I’m able to teach, especially the midfielders, how they need to move together and work together,” Parker said. “I feel like just over the past couple of games it’s already improved so much so I think just continuing to bring the energy and intensity up is something I can definitely contribute.”
After leading the Rams to a 2011 PIAA Class AAA title game appearance in her senior year, Parker was off to South Carolina where she quickly became a fixture in the Gamecocks’ starting lineup. She started all but one of the 79 college matches she appeared in, set team records for minutes played and was voted team MVP by teammates as a junior and senior.
With a remarkable list of accomplishments that also includes an all-state selection in 2011, a USYSA club national championship in 2012, three times first-team All-SOL and a two-time team captain in high school, Parker’s resume is impressive. Listed at just 5-foot-2, Parker was still able to dominate at the high school level and translated to a tenacious center midfielder in college.
“Being a smaller player taught me that if I wanted to be out there, I had to be the hardest worker out there,” Parker said. “That’s something I brought to every team I played on. I was never the most skilled player but my work rate and willingness to win balls and just help my team win is what I had and I can bring that to this team too.”
During her time battling the likes of Florida, Kentucky and Texas A&M in the SEC, Parker stayed in touch with Rams coach Audrey Anderson. After graduating, and planning to return to the Perkasie area, Parker wanted to get into coaching. Any opportunity to play professionally more than likely would have taken Parker overseas, and that wasn’t a route she wanted to go, so given that she was coming back home and Anderson had an open assistant spot, things fell right into place.
On top of her role with the Rams, she coaches a U-11 team with FC Bucks and works for a personal training business in the Lehigh Valley where she currently resides.
“I like that it keeps me involved in the game for sure,” Parker said. “I’m really having fun teaching the girls what I know and the experience that I had and hoping to help make them better players from what I went through and just having a lot of fun with it.”
Stevi is the oldest of the three Parker siblings, with brother Scott a junior wrestler at Lehigh and youngest brother Matt in his senior year at Pennridge, also set to wrestle at Lehigh.
With a tactical eye now aiding her years of experience as a player, Parker is able to spot things on the field and relay them to the Rams players. It’s simple things, like telling a midfielder to drop a few steps or pointing out space on a flank or taking a few minutes to relay strategy to a sub about to enter or a starter right before the start of a second half.
For the players on the team now, it’s an asset they’re happy to have.
“She has great constructive criticism,” senior defender Rachel Velez said.
Senior Erin Stevenson, who has been playing a central midfield role, has enjoyed having the former Ram standout around the team. Commited to UMBC, Stevenson wants to take as much as she can from Parker this season.
“Her positivity is incredible,” Stevenson said. “She’s not that much older than us and she’s been through this so many times that she’s just able to be there, pick us up and give us tips.”
That Parker is back coaching at the high school level is significant. During her career, club coaches wanted her to eschew playing for Pennridge but the midfielder just couldn’t bring herself to do it.
It’s a stance she still feels strongly about, mainly because the differences between club and high school soccer only make players more well-rounded. Sure, club ball usually brings better competition and more fluid play, but the high school game has that physical, hard-nosed edge that is so vital in the college ranks.
Parker said learning how to compete and battle and win against bigger and stronger players was invaluable and saw it translate to the college level.
“It prepared me well for college because, don’t get me wrong, club soccer was some of the best times of my life, but playing for your school is so different,” Parker said. “You don’t get to experience that unless you play high school soccer. Going on to college is the same thing, you’re representing your school and playing in high school prepared me for how I would have to do that in college.”
Pennridge has a large senior core this year that’s determined to reach the state tournament. One thing Parker has noticed with her midfielders this year is that they’re all willing to do the extra work, the same sort of things she built a career on doing.
Parker’s personal motto is “Leave No Doubt.” It’s something she demonstrated as a player and teaching as a coach. Her goal now is for Pennridge to get to Hershey, finish what she started five years ago and leave no doubt about which team is the tops in the state.
“It’s been great getting to be a part of this high school team the past month or so we’ve been with these girls,” Parker said. “Audrey and I are just enjoying ourselves and we have a great group of girls.”
Top Photo: Pennridge assistant girls soccer coach Stevi Parker shares her thoughts at halftime of the Rams’ Sept. 15, 2016 game at Souderton. Parker is a Pennridge alumna and recently graduated from University of South Carolina. (Bob Raines/Digital First Media)