Local Sports

The chosen one

SEBRING - Most high school soccer players dream of having a career like Hannah Waller's.

The Lake Placid senior is a four-year varsity starter, and co-captained this year's squad, which won the Class 2A-District 9 championship. Time and again, opposing coaches said she was the Green Dragons' toughest player to prepare for.

Waller's incredible season didn't go unnoticed.

In February, she was selected by the Florida Athletic Coaches Association as District 17's Player of the Year. The coveted award goes to the district's best overall soccer player, and was decided by coaches from DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, and Highlands Counties.

One of the perks of being chosen as player of the year means getting to play in the annual FACA Girls Soccer All Star Classic, which brings together Florida's top players for an exhibition match.

Waller said she was overjoyed by the news.

"I was really honored to hear that the coaches thought they saw something in me to vote me into the game," Waller said. "It was really awesome to play in it and a great experience."

Waller was the second player from Lake Placid to be voted as player of the year. Brittany Collison won the honor in 2008. But Waller left an indelible mark on this year's game. Playing on the East squad, she scored a goal with three minutes left in the match.

"It was really cool," Waller said. "This other girl crossed the ball in towards the net and another girl missed it. So I was there to knock it in."

Waller added that playing with and against some of the state's top talent was a memorable experience as well.

"To play just one night, just one game with them was so awesome," she said. "It was really great to play against some of the toughest competition out there, and also to have it on your team. It was like an entirely different game."

"Especially because we only got about 30 minutes to warm up and practice together before playing."

But it wasn't just Waller's athletic prowess that earned her player of the year.

"She's jut really solid and really committed," said Dragons coach John Merlo. "And to have that be reinforced by other coaches from the area just means that they took notice of that too."

Lake Placid assistant Sarah Norris issued a similar sentiment.

"Hannah was selected by the FACA committee and coaches because of her impeccable soccer skills, as well as her leadership on and off the field," Norris said.

Hailing from Lake Placid and meeting other players from major metropolises like Orlando, Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Miami, Waller was representing one of the state's smaller communities. But Norris said that actually showed just how special Waller is.

"It only goes to show that the size of the school doesn't matter, but rather the dedication you put into the sport you play," she said. "If you put you put your heart and mind into a sport you can accomplish great things."

After a full schedule as a student-athlete at Lake Placid High School, which also included being the girl's tennis team No. 1 singles player, Waller said she has no plans to play soccer in college.

"I want to go to Florida, but soccer isn't really on the radar," she said. "Maybe in intramurals, but that's it."