Katlyn Axenfeld was a four-year standout at Reservoir High School and as a junior she helped the Gators reach the state championship game in girls soccer in 2009.
But Axenfeld, a life-long resident of Laurel, wasn't sure if she had what it took to play at a higher level.
"When I was a junior in high school I wasn't sure I was going to play in college," said Axenfeld, 21, who grew up playing travel soccer with the Laurel Premier. "I didn't look at it as an option until my friends older than me starting playing in college."
Axenfeld told herself: "Maybe I am good enough to play in college."
"I started going to watch college games," she added. "I could just picture myself doing on the field what those players were doing. Winning games my senior year and junior year gave me confidence. It made me realize I could do it."
She certainly did. Axenfeld scored the only goal in a 1-0 win over Huntingtown in the Class 3A state title game her senior season at Reservoir in 2010.
Axenfeld then spent four years on the soccer team at Division I Towson University of the Colonial Athletic Association. She helped the program go from one win in 2012 to a post-season berth this past season — the first playoff game of her college career.
"It has changed so much. We (seniors) have been here for what we feel the worst the program has ever been and the best it has ever been," she said. "My sophomore year we only won one game. That was probably the lowest. The team had bad chemistry when I was a sophomore."
"It turned around my junior year," added the defensive midfielder. "My junior and senior years the team got along so well. We have had great leaders the past two years."
Axenfeld was one of four seniors this year who spent four years in the program.
In her first playoff game in college, No. 6 seed Towson lost in New York to host Hofstra 3-0 on Nov. 2 in the CAA tournament. "They had a strong frontline," Axenfeld said of Hofstra.
The Tigers ended the season 6-9-4 overall and 3-4-2 in CAA play after going 8-10-1 last year.
The Tigers were 1-15-2 in 2012 when Axenfeld was a sophomore.
This year was the first post-season appearance under head coach Greg Paynter, who started at Towson in 2007, but was familiar with her before that.
"I have known her since she was a sophomore in high school," Paynter said. "What she brought to the program is the tenacity of a competitor. I told her early in her college career, 'If you go out and work hard it will come to you.' She was a big part of our success."
Axenfeld played in all 19 games as a freshman for Towson in 2011 and made seven starts, with two goals and one assist.
As a sophomore, she started 14 of 18 games and scored a goal against Navy and took most of the corner kicks for the Tigers.
Last season, Axenfeld she started 16 of 19 games and had a career-high four goals with two assists.
She had the game-winning goal against Drexel and also scored against Loyola, Mount St. Mary's and UNC-Wilmington.
Axenfeld played youth soccer for several years for her father, Kevin, who was her coach.
He is a financial manager who graduated from Towson while her mother, Maureen, is a data clerk at Hammond Middle School.
The Towson senior is majoring in accounting and is slated to graduate in 2015.
Axenfeld knew about the CAA before she headed to Towson, thanks to her cousin, Danielle, who played soccer for William & Mary of the CAA.
"I talked to her a little when I was in high school," Axenfeld said.
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Another cousin, Nolan, attends DeMatha and plans to play soccer next year at Virginia Tech.
Axenfeld said she enjoyed the start of each season at Towson.
"My best memory is coming back for pre-season. That is when the team really jells. That was the best time for me," she said.
Local players in college
Reservoir High grad Dulaney Reiff was a freshman defender this season for the women's soccer team at Division I Duquesne in Pittsburgh. She game off the bench in 14 of 18 games for the Dukes, who were 5-10-3.
Laurel resident Amanda Jackson was a redshirt freshman forward/midfielder for Loyola Marymount in California this season but did not see game action.
Laurel resident Paola Rosa (Reservoir) played in eight games as a freshman this season for Division III McDaniel College.