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Rachel Gibson, a senior at Southern High School who helped recruit new players to the school's field hockey program during the summer, was named the U.S. Army Impact Player of the Month.
Gibson was nominated for the honor by Bulldogs field hockey coach Cindy Gray. A team captain, Gibson organized team workouts before the season so the squad could hit the ground running and better integrate new players into the program.
"She understood the importance in the offseason in the summer of really welcoming players who were interested to help build our program," Gray said. "So she worked hard all summer with incoming ninth-graders, telling them to invite their friends to help recruit girls that then built our numbers."
Last year, the program had 23 players, all of whom played on the varsity level. The team went 10-3. This year, the program has 29 players, 16 of whom will develop at the junior varsity level. Gibson said having a junior varsity team allows players to develop by playing in competitive environments rather than watching from the bench, which she believes will be beneficial in the long run for the individual players and the program at large.
"Some players, they might not get as much playing time on varsity but JV allows you to get all that playing time," Gibson said. "They get more experience playing the games so that when they do come up to the varsity level, their skills are accelerated and they have more field vision and field hockey IQ. It's definitely helpful for them to be able to play more."
Though the program is on the right track, the varsity team has just 13 players this year, meaning that if everyone is available to play on game day, all but two will be on the field. That has posed a challenge, but having a versatile player like Gibson around has made game day easier for Gray.
Gibson, a defender by trade, is playing three different spots for Southern throughout the course of a game this fall.
"Rachel starts on defense and then subs in at midfield and subs in at attack," Gray said. "She's one of the players that stepped up and said, ‘Whatever my team needs of me, I am willing to do,' and has the mental game play and physical stamina to be able to do that for us."
For Gibson, it's all about putting the team first.
"If [my teammates] need a break, I feel like I'm there to help everyone out and be in every position," Gibson said. "It's not just about me. It's about the team and it's about going with what we practiced and I want to be there to help every step of the way. I personally enjoy all the positions."
In addition to playing field hockey this fall, Gibson is also interning at Elite Care Physical Therapy in Deale, Md., and is considering pursuing physical therapy in the future. She'll attend Randolph Macon next fall and play lacrosse. She made her decision after visiting campus and meeting with Yellow Jackets head coach MK Geratowski.
"It seems like it was more than playing lacrosse when you went to play lacrosse there," Gibson said. "... It's more than playing a sport. It's having people there for you. It's a whole other family."
Watch video of the award presentation:
Faith Chmielewski, a senior midfielder on the Westminster High School girls' soccer team, was also named the U.S. Army Impact Player of the Month. Chmielewski was nominated by Owls head coach Dannielle Midkiff, who lauded Chmielewski's leadership qualities.
"All of last year when she was a junior and now that she's a senior, through tryouts and everything, she's just that kid who is cheering everybody else on," Midkiff said. "... She's just constantly [picking] everybody else up. She's got a little fun, happy joke if the team looks a little down. She really is the spirit of the team."
Midkiff said Chmielewski's encouragement is particularly effective with younger players. She highlighted how Chmielewski went "beyond the call of duty" to make incoming freshmen feel comfortable at tryouts this fall by making it a point to learn their names rather than waiting to connect with them once they made a team.
Chmielewski's leadership is particularly meaningful considering there are just five seniors on the varsity team this year.
"For me, I just try to make it where it's not just JV and varsity. It's us as Westminster soccer, that we all are together," Chmielewski said. "We're a huge family, a huge team where we can all be friends. I think this year we definitely have bonded. The freshmen and the sophomores on JV definitely already feel comfortable to talk to all of us. I think for me, I just try to make everyone feel that they can be themselves, that they don't have to be scared of the seniors or be scared to talk to us where we all can be friends."
Chmielewski is heading to Marquette next fall and will play lacrosse. Being a two-sport athlete helps Chmielewski in soccer because she's so well-conditioned, according to Midkiff, who added that lacrosse players tend to move the ball effectively once they get on the soccer pitch because of how well they see the field.
Chmielewski, a future Division I lacrosse player, still plays two sports for a simple reason: it's fun.
"Honestly, I've been playing soccer since I was like 5 years old and lacrosse since I was 8, so playing two sports since I was very young has always just been great for me," Chmielewski said. "I just loved playing sports. It's honestly a great opportunity to meet new people and be competitive in a healthy way. It's just a great thing for me that I love to do."
In addition to soccer and lacrosse, Chmielewski has other responsibilities to take care of at Westminster, too -- she's in the National Honor Society and is handling fundraising duties for her senior class. But then, it's on to Marquette.
"I'm so excited. I was looking at schools and I just went and visited there and it felt like home when I got there," Chmielewski said. "They just have such a great lacrosse facility and just the whole team altogether is awesome, so I'm really excited to go there next year."
Watch video of the award presentation:
To nominate a student-athlete for the U.S. Army Impact Player award, visit PressBoxOnline.com/Impact.
Photo Credits: Courtesy of Cindy Gray and Faith Chmielewski