Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008

Byrnes, Nehemiah score national soccer honor

Two county natives named Scholar All-Americans

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Good Counsel senior forward Kim Byrnes and Quince Orchard senior forward Ariel Nehemiah were two of the 35 student-athletes nationwide named to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America’s 2007 High School Girls Scholar All-America Team. The two will attend the NSCAA All-America Luncheon, held Jan. 19 as part of the 2008 NSCAA Convention in Baltimore.

Byrnes, 17 of Rockville, is the fifth player to receive the honor in the 20 years of Good Counsel girls soccer. Nehemiah, also 17, is the first player in Quince Orchard coach Peg Keiller’s nine-year tenure to be recognized.

Coaches nominate their own players, who must have at least a 3.75 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale, display excellence in girls soccer at the high-school level and perform community service to be considered.

‘‘No offense to All-American, take nothing away from that, that’s a great honor, but I think this is the most cherished award,” Good Counsel coach Jim Bruno said. ‘‘This award shows, ‘Hey, this kid does an awful lot more than play soccer.’”

Keiller agreed.

‘‘It’s an important award,” she said. ‘‘I think it’s a real good step for college. The majority of athletes are not going to be professionals. They’re going to need their education. That’s where the academic side comes in. It’s what’s going to be most useful for the rest of their lives.”

Byrnes tallied a team-high 20 goals and 10 assists in leading Good Counsel to a 16-5-1 record and Washington Catholic Athletic Conference semifinal appearance. Speedy and crafty with the ball at her feet, she’s got an impeccable eye for goal, attracting interest from several Division I programs, including Cornell (N.Y.) and American (D.C.) Universities and Loyola College. She hasn’t committed anywhere yet.

‘‘Being honored has been such a rewarding experience,” Byrnes said. ‘‘I’ve always loved playing soccer. But I’ve always put my academics first, that’s always been important. So this is a pretty big deal for me and my family. I know I want to go the pre-medical path. I want to be neurosurgeon someday. So this picks up on the academics side, too, and that’s nice.”

Nehemiah’s innate athleticism, coupled with her smarts, helped her score 15 goals and seven assists in leading Quince Orchard to its second state title, and first since 2002, this past fall.

Her ability to spark game-altering plays, to set her teammates up just as well as she can hit the back of the net herself, has gotten her noticed by some prestigious college programs as well. The University of North Carolina, Maryland, UCLA and Virginia have shown interest but, like Byrnes, she’s undecided thus far.

The NSCAA’s scholar award honors elite athletes who embrace the importance of being a well-rounded human being. Byrnes and Nehemiah, whose impact on their respective teams extends far beyond statistics, surely qualify.

‘‘This award means a lot because I’ve definitely worked hard in athletics, but also in my academics and it feels good to have that hard work pay off,” Nehemiah said. ‘‘In the end, I’m not going to become a soccer player. My academics are what’s going to help me in whatever I choose to do in the future.”