July 23, 2016

Partly sunny

Medina County Hall of Fame: Standout could do it all on soccer field

Kasé (McCoy) Stiefvater, who helped lead the Medina High soccer team to the 1997 Division I state championship, will be inducted into the Medina County Sports Hall of Fame on June 12. (RON SCHWANE PHOTO ILLUSTRATION)

Kasé (McCoy) Stiefvater, who helped lead the Medina High soccer team to the 1997 Division I state championship, will be inducted into the Medina County Sports Hall of Fame on June 12. (RON SCHWANE PHOTO ILLUSTRATION)

Kasé (McCoy) Stiefvater was 5-foot-1½ and weighed 115 pounds during her illustrious Medina High soccer career. She might as well have been 6-2, 190.

“It sounds funny, but the reason I was successful was because it never dawned on me that I was significantly smaller than everyone else,” she said. “I was not fazed by it. It was something that never crossed my mind.”

The 34-year-old Stiefvater, who will be inducted into the Medina County Sports Hall of Fame during June 12 ceremonies at The Galaxy Restaurant in Wadsworth, certainly stood tall on the soccer field.

The 1998 Medina graduate was Gazette MVP as a junior and senior, a four-time All-MedinaCounty pick and Ohio Player of the Year in ’97, when she helped lead the Bees to the Division I state championship.

She went on to a successful career at Northwestern, where she helped the Wildcats to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament as a freshman and served as a team captain as a junior and senior.

Stiefvater now lives in Floyds Knobs, Ind., just across the border from Louisville, Ky., and is a wife, mother and successful defense litigation lawyer for Kightlinger & Gray.

“Kasé was tiny, but she was very strong,” said Michelle (Anderson) Beorlegui, a 2013 Medina County Sports Hall of Fame inductee and four-year teammate of Stiefvater’s at Medina. “The competitiveness and the will and the desire and the strength made up for a lot of it.

“She was very, very physical. She used her size to her advantage, because not many people expected somebody as small as she was to be as physical as she was. That’s part of why she was as successful as she was.”

Toss in a lot of desire, hard work and skill and Stiefvater succeeded whether she was starting the offense from the midfield or finishing a play as a forward.

“She was maybe the most talented freshman I’ve ever seen,” said Scott Simpson, a 24-year-old rookie head coach at Medina when Stiefvater showed up as a ninth-grader in 1994. “She was small in stature, so your foot skills, your technical ability, will rise. She was fantastic. Left-footed, right-footed, she had all the technical skills and she was very competitive.

“She was always fun-loving and happy, but when it was game time, her goal was to beat you. She was that girl who went on the field and hit a switch. That’s how it was with her. When the game was on, she was ultra competitive.”

A new home

Stiefvater lived in Medina and Akron until kindergarten, when her father’s job transfer resulted in the McCoy family — brother Kody is five years her junior — moving to San Diego.

The McCoys moved back to Medina prior to her freshman year of high school but lived in Akron for a time while their house was being built, with Stiefvater often staying at the home of a soccer teammate.

“I remember being terrified,” she said of her first days back in Medina. “I was a 14-year-old girl and I knew no one.”

The transition was made easier by the fact Stiefvater had played on a club team, the Internationals, the summer before her ninth-grade year. Beorlegui was a teammate, as was Stefanie (Sizemore) Tolar.

“I was just focused on my own performance and making sure I didn’t look like an idiot,” Stiefvater said. “I wanted people to think I was at least a decent soccer player.”

“Decent” was never a word used to describe Stiefvater’s ability.

On a very talented team led by seniors like Karen (Knotts) Ransom and Karen Kase, it quickly became apparent that the freshman class, led by Stiefvater, Beorlegui, Leslie McCombs and Carrie Ollom, had the potential to do something very special.

“All along, starting our freshman year, we had a great group of upperclassmen,” Stiefvater said. “But from the get go, it was apparent we had something really special in our class. You just don’t have classes like that come along very often.

“It was interesting to see the evolution. We were talented, but we had a lot of growing up to do. We had to learn what it meant to be committed to the game, because we were really immature.”

Growing up

Stiefvater never got any taller, but she, Beorlegui, McCombs and Ollom did a lot of maturing in their four years at Medina. They were always friends and great kids, but they were also precocious, fun-loving and perfectly willing to test their limits with Simpson, their young head coach.

“Poor Scott,” Stiefvater said. “I almost feel bad for him that he was stuck with our girls. We were pretty relentless. We liked to have a good time and we had a lot of outgoing personalities. He was probably overwhelmed by us.

“He was super knowledgeable and wanted us to be good. He was a very good coach, but we gave him a hard time.”

With so much natural talent, the Bees were always successful under Simpson, who moved his pieces around experimentally for several seasons before coming to the conclusion that each of his four stars had a natural position and role.

Ollom, who went on to play at Samford, was the goalie, team leader and, in the best way possible, mother hen.

“I just love Carrie to death,” Stiefvater said. “She’s one of the most loyal people you’ll ever meet. She was not tall, she was not super imposing, but she was imposing in goal. She owned the goal.

“She was just a huge part of our success, not just on the field, but for the team’s morale. She held everybody together and looked out for everyone. She was an absolutely fantastic teammate.”

Beorlegui, who went on to play at Central Florida, was the goal-scoring machine, the bulldog who would charge through three or four defenders when she saw an opportunity to put a point on the board.

“Certain people in the game of soccer are just meant to be goal-scorers,” Stiefvater said. “They will sniff it out no matter what. Michelle was a natural. That was what she was born to do.”

McCombs, who went on to play at Tulane, was more laid back, preferring instead to let her amazing physical gifts do the talking.

“She is probably the best overall athlete I’ve ever known,” Stiefvater said. “She dominates in any sport she plays. She was an amazing soccer player and an amazing teammate.”

Stiefvater was the player who could do anything. If the Bees needed a goal, she moved up top. If they needed to control the middle, she went there. If an opponent was testing Medina’s defense, she dropped back.

“Kasé was technically the best player I’ve ever been lucky enough to play with,” said Beth (McHugh) Ingerman, a sophomore when Stiefvater was a senior who went on to play four years at the University of Dayton. “Her vision was unlike others’. She had a way to know where the play was going before it actually happened. She was always there and really controlled the game.”

The chase

As sophomores, Stiefvater, Beorlegui, McCombs and Ollom led the Bees to the state semifinals, where they lost 2-1 to Hudson.

As juniors, they helped Medina defeat Mentor 2-1 in the state semis, but the Bees lost the championship game 2-0 to Cincinnati Turpin.

“Looking back, I’d like to think we were proud of ourselves, but we were just disappointed,” Stiefvater said. “We were so close and we weren’t able to seal the deal. We were glad we had another year for redemption.”

The pressure in that 1997 postseason was immense. In the Bees’ eyes, success could be defined only by a state title.

“With that group, anything less was considered, to all of us, losing,” Stiefvater said. “We were all very competitive. We were all really dedicated and committed to being the best. That was always an expectation and goal we had for ourselves.

“We never overtly talked about it. We just all innately knew that’s what we were setting out to do.”

It’s also exactly what they did.

In the semifinals, the Bees drilled Mentor 4-0, with Stiefvater scoring all four goals.

“It was one of those nights where everything you touched did exactly what you wanted it to do,” she said. “Those don’t happen too often.”

In an extremely physical state championship game, Medina downed Thomas Worthington 3-1.

“We had a lot of hard times, but it was kind of like it all came together,” Beorlegui said. “We had all been friends for such a long time and played on so many teams together. We all knew each other so well. It just all came together — all of our personalities, our friendships, our competitiveness. Everything clicked.”

“It was pretty obvious we had something special with that team,” Ingerman said. “We were building on the success of the year prior. We were pretty hungry and we knew we had the talent. It was unlike any other team I’ve ever been on. We were completely stacked.”

In the end, the four-year chase and the heartbreak that occurred along the way made the state championship even more special.

“It was so surreal,” Stiefvater said. “I’ll never forget that game only because it was one of the toughest games we ever played. Their scouting report focused almost 100 percent on shutting down (Beorlegui) and me. It was the most I’ve ever been fouled and hardest I’ve ever been fouled in a game.

“They were effective for the most part, but we were so deep with talent, the rest of the team stepped up. That was what I was most proud of.”

Moving on

Stiefvater went on to have a very successful career at Northwestern, where she played for Marcia McDermott, who had been an assistant under legendary North Carolina women’s coach Anson Dorrance.

“She taught us soccer, but also about life,” Stiefvater said. “She taught us so much about mental toughness, commitment and accountability. They’re practices that still hold very true in my life today.”

After helping the Wildcats reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament as a freshman, Stiefvater had another solid season as a sophomore, leading to her being named a team captain as a junior.

Stiefvater then started having serious problems with shin splints, which led to her taking a medical redshirt that season. She came back and played while serving as a team captain the following season and could have had a fifth year of eligibility, but passed on it in order to start law school.

“It’s an experience I’ll always cherish,” she said of her college career. “Not necessarily for the soccer, but to be surrounded by such talented students and athletes.”

Stiefvater earned her communications degree from Northwestern in 2002 and then attended the William Mitchell College of Law in Minnesota, graduating in 2005.

In law school, she met her future husband, Greg, a football and track standout first at ColoradoState, then at South DakotaState. The Stiefvaters — Greg is an attorney for Humana — have two girls, Cooper, 5, and Campbell, 3.

These days, Stiefvater spends virtually no time reliving her exploits on the soccer field, but she will be eternally grateful for how the sport helped shape her life.

“It had 100 percent to do with it,” she said. “I feel so strongly that team sports are so instrumental in the development of females. It teaches you things you carry your entire life. The sports part of it is a small thing in the overall scheme. It teaches you habits — learning to be disciplined, being competitive, strategizing, seeing things through, anticipating problems, vision, pride, confidence.

“I remember high school in general as a phenomenal time in my life. It all goes back to the relationships and the fact I had such incredible teammates. We don’t see each other much anymore, but when we do, it’s like we’ve never been apart.”

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him @RickNoland on Twitter.

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.