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Les Willsey

Staff Writer,

Highland's DeGracie flips for D-I girls soccer champs

Dec 12, 2012

Watch Highland's girls soccer team play for a five minutes perhaps less than that and it won't take long to figure out who Jaden DeGracie is. DeGracie isn't flashier than other players running or dribbling. But she will stand out once the Lady Hawks have a chance for a throw-in. 

"She's a weapon, no doubt," Highland coach John Berzins said. "We get a lot of opportunities anyway, but with her ability on throw-ins it makes us more dangerous."

DeGracie, a senior midfielder, notched 41 assists last season. Some of those assists came from the usual cross or corner kick. But at least half  were via her specialty -- the flip or somersault throw-in. Precious few teams have such a weapon -- boys or girls.

"I've had two guys in college that could do it and one this year in women's," Berzins, who also coaches junior college soccer at Chandler-Gilbert, said. "There aren't many. She's exceptional at it. She has to work a lot on her core. We work with her each practice on the throw-ins. Usually limit her to about eight a day. It's kind of like a baseball pitcher. Give her some work, just don't overdo it. She's not the only one we use for throw ins. We have others and we can score other ways. But with that ability we want to take advantage of it as much as possible."

In last week's 2-1 loss to Desert Vista -- the Hawks only loss in eight matches this season -- DeGracie performed 14 throw-ins. The Hawks only score was an own goal deflected in on by a Desert Vsita player -- off a DeGracieflip throw-in. Earlier this week DeGracie piled up four assists -- two on throw-ins -- in a 5-0 win over Basha. She has14 assists so far in the 2012-2013 season increasing her total to 70 in 2 1/3 seasons.

Where did DeGracie's unique ability arise? She grew up competing in gymnastics and socce and the former influenced (melded) with the latter. When she was 8-years old her club team coach showed her a You-Tube video of the flip-throw-in. It intrigued her. So much so it wasn't long before she was practicing it and becoming proficient at it.

"I was more of a gymnast than a soccer player then," DeGracie said. "After I saw the video I kept working on it. It was fun. I think that's when I started to get more interested in soccer. I've been practicing and working on flip throws for a long time."

Highland hosts a Thursday (Dec. 13) match with Red Mountain averaging five goals a game. The defending Division I champs, a senior-dominated and potent offensive team, is that much more of a threat with DeGracie's unique throw-in ability. In two-plus varsity seasons she now has 70 assists. Ashley Hatch and Paige Morris, the Hawks leading goal-scorers, light up at the mention of DeGracie's boost to their set-piece game.

"She can be 30, 40 or more yards out," Morris said. "One of us may be high and the other behind on the throw, but usually one of us gets a good chance off  it."

DeGracie has performed the flip throw-in for so long, it's become a part of the game she hardly notices.

"It doesn't affect my play," DeGracie said. "t don't feel any more tired and in some ways I feel more loose because of all the throws I make."

DeGracie's considerable ability is not limited to throw-in. She landed a scholarship to play soccer at the University of Miami where she will study chemistry and at some point pursue a career as an orthodontist. She also runs track (hurdles, jumps and the 4X100 relay). Beyond athletics she has a 4.3-plus GPA, has served on the student council, is a member of the Best Buddies Club (helping special needs students) and finds time occasionally to do piano recitals.

"I think I'm just an average teenager," DeGracie said. "I hang out with friends, spend a lot of time with my family and I love to read."

A little more than average, wouldn't you say?