Sunday , December 24, 2017 - 5:15 AM
SYRACUSE — Whether it’s on the soccer pitch or during a conversation, Caroline Stringfellow isn’t afraid to defend herself.
Her father, Justin, recalls an incident during a moment of escalated tensions when Syracuse High’s girls soccer team played Weber on Sept. 29.
“Weber was frustrated at that point, and a girl kind of took a cheap shot on Caroline, kind of shoved her right to the ground,” he said. “Whistle had already blown, that girl was kind of keeping Caroline down, and Caroline shoved her off.”
Stringfellow sat quietly throughout her father’s rehearsal of the situation.
“And then another Weber player came and Caroline shoved that girl away,” he said.
She could no longer remain silent.
“I did not shove that girl. That girl shoved me,” she quickly shot back.
Syracuse won 4-1, but the skirmish didn’t end there. According to Stringfellow, an opponent involved in the spat called her “Not So Sweet Caroline” on Twitter after the game.
That part elicited a slight chuckle from Stringfellow.
Clearly her teammates and coaches were amused, because during player introductions prior to Syracuse’s first-round playoff game against West Jordan, she was announced as “Not So Sweet Caroline” Stringfellow.
“She’s one of the sweetest kids you’ve ever met — she really is Sweet Caroline — but on the field, she doesn’t back down,” Syracuse coach Taylor Allen said.
Stringfellow, a freshman, finished the season with 29 goals and 32 assists, and that production was critical in helping Syracuse win its first girls soccer region title, its first girls soccer playoff game and advance to its first championship game.
Stringfellow has been named the 2017 All-Area Girls Soccer Team’s Most Valuable Player.
Allen said her refusal to back down was “pretty critical” to her success.
“That’s rare in people, and it’s rare in young girls,” Allen said. “Maybe by their senior year they have some of that swagger, but dude, she’s got it.
“For a 14-year-old to come out and do that year one … she’s playing with 18-year-olds who are women and she doesn’t care. That’s rare. It really is.”
Stringfellow’s sudden rise may not be all that surprising given her background. When she was 9, she played on a club team coached by her father called Syracuse FC. That team also included Sarah Wynn from Syracuse, Brynlee Meyerhoffer from Fremont, Tiani Fonoti from Northridge, Kaitlyn and Kylee Richins from Layton and Alysia Butters from Ogden.
Her father said that team won the La Roca Cup, the Sparta Cup, the Avalanche Invitational and the President’s Cup.
When he eventually decided to get out of coaching, he contacted La Roca.
“I heard a lot of really good things about (La Roca coach) Pancho (Ovalle) and contacted La Roca and sat down with (technical director and La Roca founder) Adolfo (Ovalle) and told him, ‘Hey, I got the best team in the state right here. If you give me Pancho, I’ll bring them over.’
“They were pretty excited for that.”
Since joining La Roca, Stringfellow’s squad has won the state championship, the U.S. Western Regionals and was in the semifinals of the National Championships last July.
Allen knew he had a gem in Stringfellow before the season started. She, along with Wynn, decided to play for Syracuse instead of La Roca’s academy team.
During Syracuse’s four non-region games, Stringfellow justified Allen’s excitement with six goals and 13 assists, the latter a single-season school record.
Stringfellow kept it rolling in the Titans’ region opener against Northridge with a pair of assists as Syracuse won 2-0, then scored five goals in her team’s 9-1 rout of Clearfield two days later.
Against Weber on Aug. 29, Stringfellow fell hard in the first minute of the game. Her return looked in doubt, but she came back 10 minutes later to score three goals and assist another as the Titans won 4-1.
Two days later, Syracuse beat Davis 2-1 — the first win over Davis in program history — with Stringfellow scoring both goals.
In a rematch against Northridge that was critical in deciding the Region 1 championship, Stringfellow tied the game at 2-2. The Titans later went ahead 3-2, but then Ashlyn Hall — who finished the season with 22 goals — suffered an ankle injury.
As Allen walked with a trainer toward Hall, he heard one of his players rallying the troops, telling them they weren’t going to lose.
“I love hearing that as a coach and I turn around and here’s little No. 35, the smallest girl on the field,” Allen said. “We knew it was a critical game. To win region, we had to beat Northridge. That’s a captain right there. That’s Caroline.”
Syracuse held on for the 3-2 victory.
Allen holds anonymous votes every week to determine captains and said Stringfellow, despite being a freshman, was chosen as captain by about the third week of the season.
She was voted captain for eight games.
“It’s funny because, yeah, she didn’t make it until like week three, and you could tell by then (the teammates) understood,” Allen said.
Stringfellow refused to slow down in the playoffs. She scored eight goals in the Titans’ four playoff games and was the only Syracuse player to score in each game.
Though she didn’t win the ultimate prize of a state title, Stringfellow is glad for the opportunities she had this year.
“I was real excited to play high school and I got to play with my sister this year, Brooklyn,” she said.
The pressure to consider joining the academy will no doubt continue for Stringfellow, but as of now, she’s committed to high school.
The rest of the state can’t be too excited about three more years of “Not So Sweet Caroline.”
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