Caroline Stringfellow's phenomenal freshman soccer season earns her Tribune Player of the Year honors

(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Syracuse's Caroline Stringfellow poses for a portrait near Bridger Bay on Antelope Island State Park Tuesday, December 12, 2017.

The 2017 girls’ soccer season proved a rarity when the rookie of the year also proved to be the most valuable player.

Freshman midfielder Caroline Stringfellow burst onto the high school soccer scene, scoring 29 goals and assisting on 32 to lead the resurgence of Syracuse soccer. The Titans capped a historic season with a 17-3 record, the school’s first Region 1 soccer title, first playoff victory and first state championship appearance.

Her performance earned her the Tribune Player of the Year honors.

“I was just hoping I could come here, do my best, score as many goals as I could and work hard to try and get this team to state,” Stringfellow said. “One of my goals was to win a state championship. We have a few more years to get there and win it, but that’s something that I want to accomplish.”

The 5-foot-2 Stringfellow is humble and soft-spoken off the field. On the field, the dynamic attacker is anything but. She weaves the ball through the middle of the field and cuts and darts through defenders almost twice her stature on a regular basis.

“We have a lot of competitions where coaches will jump in and play with the team, and she’s outplaying the coaches that are much bigger, stronger and have more experience than her,” Syracuse coach Taylor Allen said. “She’s got this low center of gravity that just makes her so hard to move. It feels like she just can’t be pushed off the ball.”

Allen, who had been watching Stringfellow from afar through the club circuit, knew that he was going to have a talented group of youngsters entering his program in 2017. That being said, he was pleasantly surprised when he first got to see Stringfellow match up against his more experienced players early in the summer.

“The first minute we got to really watch her at tryouts, we knew she was the real deal,” Allen said. “We quickly realized she’s a game changer. There’s such a quick turnaround from tryouts to your first game, so we had to decide quick who were our studs and where do we put them. Where can we put Caroline where she can shine? Right away I said that she can be that difference maker at the No. 10 [attacking midfielder].”

Stringfellow made an immediate impact. She scored six goals before Syracuse even reached region play. To her, it didn’t feel that different from the high-stakes games she was playing in at the club nationals earlier in the summer.

“I wasn’t really intimidated,” she said. “After coming back from nationals, I knew the pressure that I’d be playing under and I knew that if I gave it my all that it would work out and I’d be playing a lot.”

Someone else on the team also wasn’t surprised to see Caroline’s meteoric rise to stardom. That was big sister and teammate Brooklyn Stringfellow, who had been watching and grooming her sister since their first rec-league team when they were toddlers.

“I remember her first goal, I dribbled the ball down the field, picked her up, put her right in front of the goal and pushed her to make her kick it in,” Brooklyn said. “She’s loved scoring ever since.”

Brooklyn, now a junior goalkeeper at Syracuse, can think back to when she was a youngster in the program and knew that in a few years her little sister would inject some life into the budding team.

“I was excited because I knew it was going to be a whole new chapter for the high school team,” Brooklyn said. “Last year at weightlifting and practices, we would talk about some of the new girls coming up. We knew that we were going to start winning a lot of games. [Caroline] is such a good player and she makes everything so much more competitive on the field. She has definitely made me a better goalkeeper.”

It was that competitiveness that propelled Caroline through a slight scoring lull in the middle of the season. Despite her slight dip in scoring, the offense continued to thrive because defenders gravitated toward her instead of marking the plethora of talent in the Syracuse attacking third of the field.

Stringfellow regained her form with the pressure weighing heavily on the Titans to make school history in the state tournament. She scored eight goals and tallied seven assists in the playoffs before Syracuse’s magical run ended in the state title game at Rio Tinto Stadium.

Despite the disappointing end to her freshman year, Stringfellow’s dominant performances have turned Syracuse into a title contender for the next few years.

“This season went good,” she said. “We worked really hard to get to the championship game, and I feel like we were good enough to win that game. I know we’re going to be good enough to get back there, and we’re going to win it this time.”

PAST ALL-TRIBUNE PLAYERS OF THE YEAR <br>2016 • Olivia Wade, Davis <br>2015 • Mikayla Colohan, Davis <br>2014 • Ireland Dunn, Davis <br>2013 • Nadia Gomes, Brighton