For much of her first three seasons on the Reservoir girls soccer team, traditional striker Keri Rager was forced to play out of position to give her squad its best chance to win.
This year, however, the Gators' roster finally came together in a way that allowed Rager to move into a more comfortable goal-scoring role.
She didn't waste the opportunity.
"I didn't feel very comfortable in the other positions I played, and being comfortable in your position, in my opinion, is the biggest factor in playing well," she said. "Being comfortable gives me confidence, which results in me not having to worry about what to do in a foreign position. It just comes naturally to me."
Rager is quick to acknowledge the excellent play of her supporting cast, but as an individual, her accomplishments can't be ignored.
Her 13 goals, 13 assists and 39 points all ranked second among Howard County public school players this season, but coach Josh Sullivan says it was her leadership that set her apart from the rest of her competition.
Though she fell short in realizing her second state championship in four years with Reservoir, Rager has earned a different kind of title this fall: Howard County Times/Columbia Flier Player of the Year.
"It's a great honor, and it's something that is certainly deserving," Sullivan said of his team's top offensive weapon. "She was an absolute joy to coach. She was a great captain, leader and role model."
Rager burst onto the Howard County soccer scene her freshman year when Sullivan called her up to varsity during the season. The Gators won the 3A state championship that year, and since then, Rager has been an integral part of the team's plans to repeat, even if that meant her playing out of the spotlight.
"Because I've had her in every single position in the past two to three years, she hasn't gotten the recognition she may have otherwise," Sullivan explained.
Heading into her senior year, knowing that she would be playing in her more natural role, Rager said she didn't change much about her game. It was only when she participated in a summer soccer camp at Bridgewater College — where she will enroll next fall to play soccer — that she realized how important her final year could be.
"It was a lot different there," she said. "The girls (in college) are so much bigger. It toughened me as a player to know that's what I'm going to have to do. It made me realize that the only way I was going to get any better was to play my hardest."
Sullivan said Rager built off her strengths as she matured as a player throughout her time in high school.
"She's always been tiny," the coach joked. "And she's always had that speed. The difference was her ability with the ball. Keri could still play at a high rate of speed, but still be under control."
This season, Rager's offensive explosiveness always seemed to surface at the right moment. In the Gators' 16 games in 2013, Rager recorded a point in all but three of them. Of her four multi-goal games, three of them came against county opponents.
Reservoir earned a first-round bye in the state playoffs and eventually, after a win against county-foe Atholton in the regional quarterfinal, the team was matched up against heavyweight River Hill.
Rager scored in that game, but the Hawks went on to win in penalty kicks. Though she thought 2013 was going to be her team's year, Rager said she was proud of how hard they fought.
"It was tough, but honestly I wasn't too upset because we played so hard," she said of her last game.
With high school soccer in the rearview mirror, and basketball in full swing, Rager looks forward to what the future has in store. Bridgewater not only welcomes its newest member of its women's soccer team, but also a budding exercise science major as well.
Still, Rager leaves behind a captain position that may never be filled in quite the same way. A self-described "people person," she had a knack for rallying her teammates. Sullivan said her play on the field will leave a void, but it will be her personality that will be missed the most.