Sept. 12, 2013
By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — At RFK Stadium, where UVa midfielder Morgan Brian played for the United States against Mexico last week, Chantel Jones was greeting members of her former team when, to her surprise, she spotted Morgan Stearns.
“She was like, `Oh, my God, I can’t believe you’re in college now!’ ” recalled Stearns, who was in D.C. with the other Cavaliers to support Brian.
Stearns wasn’t long out of elementary school when she attended a UVa soccer camp at which Jones was her counselor. Jones, then a goalkeeper for the Wahoos, formed an immediate bond with Stearns that strengthened in summers that followed.
“She obviously has always been kind of someone I looked up to,” Stearns said, “because she played here, played on the [U.S. national under-20 team] and won a World Cup with the 20s. She was always someone I could model what I wanted to do after.”
Jones spent six seasons (2006-11) in the Virginia program and started 90 games, a total surpassed only by Becky Sauerbrunn (91). Stearns, who’s in her first season at UVa, has a long way to go to catch Jones. But she’s already started four games for second-ranked Virginia (6-0), which opens ACC play Thursday at 7 p.m. against Syracuse at Klöckner Stadium.
“She’s not a typical freshman at all,” said assistant coach Kerry Dziczkaniec, who works with the Cavaliers’ goalies.
“The thing that Chantel has which Morgan has as well is that because of her physical presence, her fitness, her mobility, she can move very well in traffic in the box, on flighted balls, and that’s what sets them apart.”
The 5-foot-10 Stearns has been part of U.S. national teams at the under-15, under-17 and, now, under-20 levels. Soccer has taken her to such places as Costa Rica, Brazil, Russia, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Spain, Sweden, Cyprus and Azerbaijan.
Stearns’ experience on big stages is “kind of the piece that makes her very confident in a starting position,” Dziczkaniec said. “She’s a lot like Morgan Brian in terms of [her poise].”
The last true freshman to start regularly in goal for UVa was Jodi Clugston in 2000. Stearns is one of four goalies on the roster, along with redshirt freshman Jessie Ferrari, junior Churchill O’Connell and senior Danielle DeLisle, who started 22 of Virginia’s 24 games last season.
“That’s a high-quality group to choose from for a starter,” Dziczkaniec said. “It’s a pretty competitive race.”
Stearns said: “We’re all really competitive, and I think every single practice, any one of us could start, and we kind of recognize that. But I think that super-competitive environment is what makes all four of us able to start at any moment. You cannot come to a practice and slack off, or else you know someone else could have your spot that day.
“The girls are awesome, so there’s no awkwardness. I think we’re all very team-oriented, and we just want the best for our team and our success.”
That Stearns ended up at the University is no surprise, and not only because she was a regular at head coach Steve Swanson’s summer camps. Her parents, Chris and Laurel, are UVa alumni. Her paternal grandfather, Raymond Stearns, also graduated from Virginia, where he played lacrosse, among other sports.
Chris Stearns lettered four times (1987, ’88, ’89 and ’90) as a lineman on George Welsh’s football team at UVa. Even so, Stearns said, her parents never tried to steer her to Charlottesville.
When she was growing up, Stearns said, there “was Virginia stuff around the house, but they did not push the University of Virginia. They were very good to have it be my decision.”
Born in Manassas, Stearns has also lived in Charlottesville, when her father was a graduate assistant on Welsh’s staff, in Germany, in Kansas, in Fairfax County and in Texas.
Laurel Stearns, who attended the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences, is a doctor in the U.S. Army, and her job took the family to San Antonio, where Morgan spent her junior and senior years at Claudia Taylor “Lady Bird” Johnson High School.
“I absolutely loved it there,” Stearns said of San Antonio, where her family still lives.
By the time the Stearnses moved to Texas she had already picked her college. Stearns committed to UVa late in her sophomore year at Lake Braddock High School in Burke.
“I think my grandpa was probably the most excited,” Stearns said. “He lives in Manassas. Even though my immediate family isn’t here, my grandparents on both sides [live in Northern Virginia and] and get to come to the games.”
Her status as a UVa legacy notwithstanding, Stearns said with a laugh, once “I finally got here as a student I found out that I did not know as much as I thought I knew. We did not come down that much, actually. That was part of my parents really wanting to not push it on us. Also we were just super-busy all the time with our own stuff going on.”
Any chance she follows her mother into medicine?
“Not at all,” Stearns said. “I can’t even look at blood or get my blood drawn without passing out.”
She has a baby brother, Luke, and a younger sister, Amber, who’s a Boston College soccer recruit. Amber fell for the sport first.
“I hated soccer,” Stearns said. “I played basketball. I wanted to come here and play basketball. And I didn’t understand the concept of playing with my feet. I thought it was silly.”
Her father, not wanting Stearns to focus on one sport at an early age, encouraged her to try soccer, too. She started playing when she was in elementary school. From Day One she was a goalie.
“It took me a while,” Stearns said, “because I was terrible. It was like 11-0 every game when I was started, and I was like, `I hate this. I don’t want to do this.’ It was a rough start, but as it went on I enjoyed it more and more.”
She played basketball in high school, too, but she has no allusions about her ceiling in that sport.
“I’m not as good as those girls [who play for UVa],” Stearns said, smiling. “No way I would be able to make that team.”