Rachel Onderko, a senior captain on the Poolesville High School (Md.) girls' varsity soccer team, was named the U.S. Army Impact Player of the Month.
Onderko was nominated for the award by Falcons head coach Rod Nubgaard, who coached Onderko the past three years. Primarily a striker and goal-scorer, Onderko was asked to play multiple positions throughout the season. More than that, Onderko took on a leadership role for the team thanks to her work ethic and ability to rally her teammates around a common goal.
Nubgaard said Onderko's leadership was especially apparent during Poolesville's 1-0 loss to Oakdale in the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association Class 2A playoffs in late October.
"To me, they gave everything they had," Nubgaard said of his players' effort in the season-ending loss. "There was nothing left, and I walked off with my head up going, ‘We gave everything we had. I think it's the first time I've had a loss like that at that level where I didn't say, ‘Could've, should've, could've, should've.' And I give her a big chunk of that. [She] kept this group going."
Nubgaard said his team controlled play for the most part, and when Oakdale scored in the second half, Onderko didn't let her teammates hang their heads.
"It was off of a slight mistake and I knew people would get shaken up, so I made sure that everyone calmed down and just remembered to step up instead of getting worried and thinking about losing that early on in the game," Onderko said. "I wanted them to realize that we still could win the game if we kept playing the way we knew how. I just wanted everyone to stay calm and to not get too shaken up by the goal."
Poolesville finished the season 8-5, and Onderko was crucial in helping to get the most out of the Falcons, according to Nubgaard. Onderko offered encouragement to her teammates during talks before games and during halftime. She also talked to Nubgaard about how the team could improve.
Onderko credits her parents, Ellen and Joe, for her leadership abilities.
"It was definitely developed from my parents and always teaching me to be a leader," Onderko said. "Also growing up playing sports my whole life and learning from the older girls, knowing that when I was younger, I always needed someone to look up to, so I wanted to be that person for younger girls."
Onderko will run track in the spring for the fourth straight year. After that, she'd like to play soccer at the college level. She's undecided on a college at this point, but she's interested in the Indiana University of Pennsylvania and the University of Delaware. In addition to playing soccer, she'd like to pursue nursing.
"It's just something I've always known I've wanted to do," Onderko said. "I always wanted to have a career where I could create personal relationships with people and have a positive impact on peoples' lives. I know with nursing, I'm never going to have to question the value of what I'm doing."
Eliza Averbach, a senior midfielder for the Sherwood High School (Md.) girls' varsity soccer team, was also named the U.S. Army Impact Player of the Month.
Averbach was nominated by Warriors head coach Hope Gouterman.
"She's a person more than she's a player, and that's the biggest thing that I'm trying to build with this program," Gouterman said. "Outside of the soccer field, she has a life to live, and she's creating every opportunity to provide for what she wants and to give herself the biggest boost to accomplish her dreams. I think that that really speaks louder than any types of words could."
Averbach is putting the finishing touches on her high school career before moving on to college. She's looking at Maryland, Virginia and Michigan and is interested in studying neuroscience. Her grandfather, Jay, was a psychiatrist. Averbach never met her grandfather, but she'd be proud to create a family tradition.
Averbach has a 4.73 GPA at Sherwood -- and she's done it while being a captain on the soccer team the past two seasons.
"I think it's pretty important to prioritize what I have and kind of manage my time well," Averbach said. "I know sometimes when I get home from school, I just want to relax, but I know that I need to do my homework and get everything done so that I can go to bed on time and then go to practice the next day without having that much stress."
Sherwood finished the season 7-7 and beat Northwood in the MPSSAA Class 4A playoffs before bowing out against Montgomery Blair one game later. Gouterman lauded Averbach for her leadership throughout the season, specifically mentioning a 7-0 loss to Our Lady of Good Counsel (Md.) in September as a contest during which Averbach encouraged teammates to keep playing hard despite the scoreboard.
"Sometimes on the field players begin to blame each other for things that really you can't blame each other for," Averbach said. "I think as a leader, I just try to keep encouraging everyone even if they make a mistake and even if we get a goal scored on us, try to encourage everyone to get it back next time."
With such leadership capabilities, Averbach was invaluable for Gouterman, a first-year head coach.
"She is a model student for any and everybody who wants to do something," Gouterman said. "She has dreams to go to college and do all these great things. She's someone that, no matter what, she will not come to practice and complain about how her day was at school even though I know that she's dealing with all these AP credits and the stress of getting into college."