June 27, 2016

Mostly cloudy

No one scored goals like Michelle Beorlegui

Michelle (Anderson) Beorlegui was not a one-dimensional soccer player.

It’s just that one aspect of Beorlegui’s game, first at Medina High and later at the University of Central Florida, was so strong it completely overshadowed all others.

Quite simply, no one in Medina County history has been as successful as Beorlegui when it comes to depositing the ball in the back of the net.

Michelle (Anderson) Beorlegui, who led the Medina High soccer team to the 1997 Division I state championship, is still Medina County’s all-time leader in goals scored with 108. (PHOTO PROVIDED)

In a 4-0 game but especially in a 0-0 one, the powerful legs of the 5-foot-4, 140-pound forward always seemed to churn a little faster when a goal was in sight.

“I enjoyed it more than defending,” laughed the 32-year-old Beorlegui, who will be inducted into the Medina County Sports Hall of Fame during June 13 ceremonies at The Galaxy Restaurant in Wadsworth. “I probably just liked to score goals.”

A four-year letterwinner who helped the Bees win a Division I state championship as a senior in 1997, Beorlegui scored a county-record 108 goals in her career while also setting area records for goals in a season (38) and game (8).

The four-time All-Gazette choice and 1995 Gazette MVP went on to play four years at Central Florida, where she was first-team All-Atlantic Sun her last two seasons and conference player of the year as a senior.

“You don’t coach a kid like that,” former Medina assistant Robin Walker said. “You say, ‘Michelle, there’s the goal. Go ahead and score.’

“You don’t want to change their style. You just count on them to do what they do best. And she did. A lot.”

Bee aggressive

Now married to Javier, a former punter and kicker at Central Florida who had a tryout with the New Orleans Saints and currently works in law enforcement in Florida, Beorlegui says young kids naturally gravitate to one end of the pitch or the other when they start playing the sport.

Beorlegui’s children, 6-year-old daughter Brinley and 5-year-old son Broden, both went straight to the front — just like their mother, who now works in medical sales out of the family home in Lakewood Ranch, Fla.

“She was a true goal-scorer,” former Medina teammate and longtime friend Carrie Ollom said. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but now that I’m coaching soccer, I realize those are few and far between. It was always comforting knowing Michelle was up there.”

A goalie who went on to play at Samford University and now works in the insurance industry in addition to coaching in Knoxville, Tenn., Ollom played for Medina the same four years as Beorlegui.

So did defender Leslie McCombs, The Gazette’s MVP in 1994 who went to play at Tulane, and midfielder Kase (McCoy) Stiefvater, The Gazette’s MVP in 1996 and ’97 before playing for four years at Northwestern.

Several other players from that era also went on to play college soccer, so to say the Bees were loaded is putting it mildly.

“We had so much talent, it was crazy when you put everything together,” Beorlegui said.

It took four years, however, for all that talent — and all those strong-willed personalities — to completely mesh under coach Scott Simpson.

Beorlegui earned all-state honors as a freshman and again as a sophomore, when Medina lost 2-1 to Hudson in the D-I state semifinals.

The following year, the Bees defeated Mentor 2-1 in the semis, but fell 2-0 to Cincinnati Turpin in the title game.

Finally, as seniors, Beorlegui, Stiefvater, McCombs, Ollom and Co. brought home the championship trophy, blitzing Mentor 4-0 in the semifinals and rolling to a 3-1 victory over Thomas Worthington in the title game.

“We had a lot of ups and downs, but it was good to finally achieve that goal,” Beorlegui said. “Our junior year, if we had had our act together, it probably would have been different.

“A lot of personalities got involved and we knew each other so well. It was like we were all sisters and (Simpson) was our big brother that we argued with all the time. It wasn’t exactly a normal team.”

Beorlegui, who went along with Simpson’s brief, unsuccessful idea of playing her in the midfield earlier in her career, says this with no animosity. The way she looks at it, it was something the Bees had to endure and overcome before they won it all.

“There’s something about when you become a senior,” she said. “Everybody just comes together. You realize it’s your last year and this is all you really have left. Everybody becomes a lot closer and you get a tighter unit.”

Fun in the sun

Like scoring goals, warm weather — very warm weather — has always made Beorlegui happy.

When it came down to accepting a college scholarship to continue her soccer career, that’s how Beorlegui ultimately chose Central Florida over Ohio State.

“I picked the warm weather,” she said. “I’m very much a warm-weather person. I remember coming back to Medina and (Stiefvater) and (McCombs) asking me how it was. I said I loved it. There were palm trees.”

It turned out to be the perfect marriage — and it also led to her eventual marriage to Javier, whom she met at Central Florida.

In Beorlegui’s freshman season, when UCF still played in the Trans-Atlantic Athletic Conference, she scored the only goal in a 1-0 victory over Jacksonville in the league championship game, earning her first-team all-tournament honors and sending the Knights to the NCAA Tournament.

The next year, when UCF moved to the Atlantic Sun Conference, Beorlegui was second-team all-league and first-team all-tournament.

The final two years of her career, she was a first-team All-Atlantic Sun pick, including league MVP as a senior in 2001.

Beorlegui, who had 21 assists in her college career, still ranks sixth in Central Florida history with 81 points and eighth with 30 goals.

“The determination that you have to score, that’s what I loved the most about soccer,” she said. “It wasn’t the games where you got four or five goals. It was those games that were 0-0 or a state championship where it was very, very tight and real competition.”

Multiple goals

Humble, down-to-earth and having smoothly moved on to the next phase of her life following a brief semi-pro career with the Tampa Bay Extreme, Beorlegui has virtually no recollection of scoring specific goals in specific games.

Of course, when a person scores 138 of them over a high school and college career that spanned eight years, they do start to run together.

“I did take a lot of shots,” she said with a laugh.

To be sure, Beorlegui loved scoring goals. Early in her career, she scored as many as possible, whenever possible, which is how she recorded 38 goals in her sophomore season, including eight in one game.

With goals came headlines, and with headlines came individual honors. Along with that, though, came some resentment — from outmanned opponents and even from teammates.

“It was almost to the point where it got embarrassing,” Beorlegui said. “I remember this game where I had gotten past the last defender and I kind of dribbled off to the side.

“I started thinking, ‘I don’t want to score again.’ There were starting to be perceptions like, ‘She’s just trying to score goals and get records.’”

While individual drive and pride are often what separate the great players from the very good, there were a lot of egos on those Medina teams. The players were all very likable kids, to be sure, but it was Simpson’s tricky job to keep individual accomplishment and progress in line with team success.

It took the Bees awhile to get all that in check, with Beorlegui ultimately doing more for her team’s overall psyche by actually doing a bit less scoring her final two prep seasons.

“She’s wonderful,” Ollom said. “She always has been.”

“She was a blast to be around,” Stiefvater said. “Any time Michelle was there, you knew it was going to be fun. There was never a dull moment.”

Better still, there was almost never a scoreless one. While Beorlegui held back at times against inferior opponents, there was no question who was getting the ball when the Bees were playing a top-notch team and in desperate need of a goal.

“She was in a class of her own,” Stiefvater said. “What always defined her is she had a knack for finding the back of the net. She was one of those true goal-scorers you don’t come across too often.”

When you do, as Medina assistant coach Walker pointed out earlier, you let them do what they do best.

“She was just so incredibly dependable,” said Walker, the amazement in her voice still apparent almost 16 years later. “If we had a set play and it didn’t quite work out, you could still count on Michelle finishing.

“She was a fireplug. She had a nose for the goal. Holy cow, she had a nose for the goal. She was a pretty special player. She could smell a goal. Man, she was fun to watch. Once she got her foot on the ball, you knew it was going to go toward the goal.”

Though a capable passer, scoring goals was that one dimension, that one incredible skill that Beorlegui had that overshadowed all others, especially when she was in high school.

In an attempt to describe just how dominant and powerful that skill was, Stiefvater, who set up more than a few of her friend’s goals, related a story she once heard about NBA superstar Kobe Bryant.

Bryant, she said, told his Los Angeles Lakers teammates to let him know if they were open and he wasn’t seeing them, because he sometimes felt so much responsibility to score that it narrowed his focus.

“That was Michelle,” Stiefvater said. “She was head down, going to the goal, but that was in no way a bad thing. She had to be like that. It’s what made her the player she was.”

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com.

Rick Noland About Rick Noland

Rick Noland is the Cavs beat writer for The Gazette and the author of "Over Time," a compilation of stories he's written in more than 30 years as a journalist. He can be reached at 330-721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.