All-Area Girls Soccer Player of the Year: Do-it-all Speltz a dazzler for Cotter
Winona Cotter junior midfielder combined lethal abilities to pass and score this season. It was enough to make her the Post Bulletin Girls Soccer All-Area Player of the Year.
The next year will be predictably tough for Sera Speltz.
That’s the result of what happened on Oct. 22. A knee injury the Winona Cotter star midfielder incurred during the Section 1A girls soccer championship game turned out even worse than originally projected.
An obviously dislocated knee cap from that second-half mishap sent Speltz permanently to the sideline in that 3-0 Cotter win over Dover-Eyota.
That was tough enough, with Speltz having wanted to finish out Cotter’s unbeaten season (14-0-0) in style. She was on her way there, having scored Cotter’s first goal, sending the Ramblers on their way to capturing their first girls soccer section title.
“It was a little scary,” Speltz said of her initial reaction to the injury. “As a soccer player, you don’t want to be out of the game. It was worrying me, but then I just became more focused on (watching) the game.”
A couple of weeks later, the junior discovered that there really had been something to worry about. The knee was in much worse shape than originally believed. Speltz had torn her ACL and meniscus.
Speltz, who ranks with the most talented and driven players that Cotter coach Marie Barrientos has ever witnessed, spent her season looking like the top player in this corner of the state. She scored 19 goals, dished out 23 assists and kept displaying a rare ability to conjure playmaking possibilities well ahead of everyone else, then deliver precise passes based on her uncanny assumptions.
One of the few girls who seemed close to her level was Speltz’s teammate, junior forward Olivia Gardner, who like Speltz was named to the Class A All-State team. Speltz made the first team, Gardner (28 goals, 11 assists) the second.
But it was Speltz's all-around game and ability to dazzle that made her our choice as this year’s Post Bulletin Girls Soccer All-Area Player of the Year.
Now, Barrientos has no doubt what Speltz will be up to these next many months. They will be spent putting in all of the rehabilitation required to not just make her as good as she was, but better. That is the Speltz way.
“She will come back from this,” Barrientos said. “This kid mentally and physically is solid. It is tough news, but she will get to a spot where she wraps her head around it and then chases it. She will get through it with the support of her team, coaches and family.”
Simply getting to where Speltz was would be an accomplishment enough. Barrientos considers Speltz to have virtually every ingredient necessary for soccer greatness. And as elite as she is as an athlete, with ample speed, quickness, agility and strength, what likely sets Speltz apart most is her appetite for improvement.
Speltz has also been a starting guard for Cotter's basketball team, leaning on defensive abilities that are stifling. Though she does the summer training with her basketball team and is locked into basketball during the winter season, soccer is her No. 1 and never far from her mind.
SOCCER LOVE AFFAIR
In summers, when she isn’t doing the encouraged basketball work, there is a good chance that there is a soccer ball at her feet. Or that she is staring at and then running up a hill, forever training in order to become more explosive on the soccer field.
Speltz likes basketball, but she is in love with soccer.
“I’ve played soccer for so long and I’ve always loved the game,” Speltz said. “I am never satisfied with how good I am. I always want to improve. In the summer, I’m doing something with soccer almost every day.”
The payoff from all of that work was on display this season, with Speltz going from eight goals and 16 assists as a sophomore, to her 19 and 23 this year. Her biggest concentration had been on putting the ball in the net. Always a pass-first player in the past, Speltz still is that. But thanks in part to the encouragement of Barrientos, she’s now also a lethal threat to score.
Barrientos practically had to squeeze out of her that willingness to score. But she’s got it now, taking advantage of her new skills when the opportunities present themselves. Speltz spent the entire summer working on her shot, finally convinced that it would be for the betterment of the team.
“I’d been telling her that she didn't always have to (pass) the ball,” Barrientos said. “But what has made her skyrocket this year is that she is now hard to mark, because now she is doing both, passing and shooting. Defenders could no longer just stay off of her, assuming she was going to pass. I spent a lot of time this year telling her to just go. She is good enough where she could just take the ball and dribble it all the way into the goal.”
Speltz didn’t just roll out of bed with these abilities. She grew them, one kick and one first touch (ball receive) at a time. Her ball control, Barrientos says, is unlike almost anyone she’s ever coached.
The coach knows how she got there.
“She has done thousands of first touches, working on it,” Barrientos said. “It is 100 percent repetition. The more you do it, the better you get. But her first touch on the ball is spotless. She has used all of her preseasons to get ready, fine tuning her game.”