Gatorade AOY Finalist Spotlight: Katie Cousins

The many talents of Gatorade National Soccer Player of the Year, Katie Cousins.

Of course there’s some sadness that Katie Cousins will graduate high school early next winter. Her soccer team loses a Gatorade National Player of the Year without a senior season, and Jefferson Forest (Forest, Va.) loses its most ardent supporter for the rest of the school year.

Cousins brings the noise, in a manner of speaking, in scores and spirit. But there is still some music left to play. Just go listen to her work that French horn, about as smooth as Cousins taps a ball into a net.

“I’d say one thing goes with Katie in every walk of life,” said Jefferson Forest band director David Webb, “and that’s how she’s not afraid of anything. Nothing rattles her. She’s played solos for us in big competitions and nailed them, because that’s what she does. That — you definitely see that personality on the soccer field. Katie’s 4-foot-nothing, a tiny little thing. But she immediately commands attention. But she’s also everybody’s best friend. Katie sure doesn’t get cheated with how she goes after life.”

Cousins downplays her instrumental success, built mostly during a class period the last few years. Music probably doesn’t come quite as easily as soccer, which afforded her a chance to pick a college — Tennessee — as a sophomore. (Technically she can’t sign the NLI dotted line yet, but she says other schools have backed off). She’ll be a Volunteer starting in early 2015, set to take an increasingly common path: Get on campus early, get settled in, try and make an impact ASAP.

Right now that French horn is “picking up some dust,” Cousins reported with a sheepish laugh, as she’s full bore into club soccer despite already having her future school. That hardly bothers Webb, who shares the fun coincidence of actually being a UT graduate.

“We’ve shared a few fist bumps about that,” he said during a telephone call with USA Today High School Sports, and he’s aware he has to teach Cousins a song when school starts. Cousins only knows the first verse of “Rocky Top.”

“As a music instructor, it’s my job to make sure people know the classics,” Webb said, laughing.

Cousins herself is a classic. A short point guard who once ruled that rectangle, too, before deciding to bypass more prep hoops. Legends exist about her crushing baseballs and softballs when she’d been around to hit some batting practice with friends. Deeply involved with church, she also passionately supports a state-wide program encouraging high schoolers to resist text messaging while they’re driving. 

There is all sorts of sheet music to her life.

She picked up the French horn in junior high, checking a box because the instrument sounded interesting for a class. Webb says it’s a tough brass instrument; not fit for everyone. Cousins has honed her pitch during hour-long classes.

She’ll participate in the school’s selective pop ensemble next year. Webb estimates about 85 of 200 auditions get invited. Cousins requested not to get a chair as a junior, she was so focused on soccer.

She also didn’t play high school soccer as a sophomore. After deciding on the Volunteers, the time was right to again play in high school: 14 goals, six assists and three game-winners, coach Stan Golon reported, despite the midfielder not playing about eight games because of either other commitments or the team opting not to waste her time against an inferior opponent.
“If you watched our team in every setting off the field, you wouldn’t even pick her out,” Golon said. “Katie’s just the humblest kid you could ever imagine. She’d show up two hours before a game to get in some extra drill work. But her success and talent level has no bearing on her personality.”

Her demeanor is also to work.

This summer’s meant focusing on tuning her body — fitness, strength and goal-scoring versatility on her weaker (left) foot. How different can that be than belting out a French lyrical, “Rhapsody on a French Hymn,” like she did at one district concert?

“A bigger key than talent is gumption. That’s Katie,” the music teacher Webb said.

Cousins is 5-feet tall and has admirers and opponents raving that she rarely even loses a 50/50 ball from high in the air. “I guess it’s just timing my jump,” Cousins said. “I’ve learned how to give myself the best chance.”

Cousins is also trying to set herself up for a fast start in Knoxville. She’s taking a hefty load of summer courses around going to Rhode Island for a camp, plus southern California for the ESPYs (part of the Gatorade experience) and also to Mexico for a Under-18 U.S. junior camp.

The beauty of her, though, is that’s not the stuff that impresses others at Jefferson Forest. It’s her interest in them.

John Otey was in his first year as the school’s athletic director last year. His previous job was nearly an hour away at a school where soccer wasn’t as strong. He didn’t know about Cousins, until she walked into his office one Friday afternoon.

She wanted to get a hold of the red flag with black outline, sporting black crossed sabers. It was a football game night. She wanted to go be true to her school. That was Cousins’ way for the majority of the school year – finding Otey before another JF team played, then returning the spirit piece after the final buzzer. Often, a high-five was involved.

“Because of students like her, we’re on our way up in school spirit,” Otey said.

Her peers returned the favor for her and the soccer team in the spring. The boys’ lacrosse team created the “Hype Platoon,” which supported Cousins and Co. all the way to a Virginia state championship game.

She erased a two-goal deficit, scoring the first time on a 40-yard free kick, Golon said. Ultimately her team lost in a shootout. The outcome hardly mattered, though.

“I was at a preseason meeting, and some coaches were talking about how fortunate I was to have Katie coming back this season,” Golon said. “I told them I knew it: I was the luckiest coach in Virginia. But even if those coaches had to face her, everyone was excited to see her playing in high school. It’s impossible not to appreciate the way she plays. I’m really looking forward to following her progress, even if she’s not here next spring. Katie’s on a path that very few ever get to walk down.”

Gatorade AOY Finalist Spotlight: Katie Cousins
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