Staples' defense isn't resting National player has busy summer


An action shot graces the June cover of Soccer Journal, showing United States national team defender Thori Staples shutting down Germany's best player, top-scoring Heidi Mueller.

The 3-0 U.S. victory -- which took place during April in Atlanta -- avenged a 3-1 loss in which Staples also held Mueller scoreless.

The 19-year-old Joppatowne High graduate was tenacious during her freshman season at North Carolina State, anchoring a squad that was ranked as high as fifth nationally and allowed 0.99 goals per game with seven shutouts.

As N.C. State's right-side defender, Staples was the lone starter to play in all 22 games during an injury-filled campaign. She helped the Wolfpack (15-6-1, 3-2) to an Atlantic Coast Conference runner-up finish to perennial NCAA champ North Carolina before losing to William & Mary in the first round of the NCAA playoffs.

During the season, Staples shut out North Carolina's top-scoring Mia Hamm, her teammate on the national team. Staples was named ACC Rookie of the Year and was the first defender named Soccer America Magazine's Freshman of the Year.

She rarely talks about her exploits.

Asked if she was happy with the way she played at N.C. State, the 5-foot-8, 140-pound Staples said, "I was kind of disappointed that we lost in the playoffs, but we did pretty well, considering all the injuries."

"She's always been that way," said Thurston Staples. He cited a sorority-sponsored banquet as an example of his daughter's humility.

"Several other girls introduced themselves and talked about their accomplishments, which weren't as many as Thori's. But when it was Thori's turn, she said her name, said she had a cumulative 3.4 grade-point average and sat down."

Staples, an honor-roll student throughout high school, failed to mention she was a three-sport athlete at Joppatowne, earning first-team All-Metro honors in soccer and track and the top scorer on the basketball team.

In the fall of her senior season, Staples, then a striker, scored 26 of her Harford County-record 84 goals, with four assists. That spring, she won four of her nine career state track titles, capturing gold medals in four events -- the 400 and 800 meters, the 110 hurdles and the long jump.

Had she not been chosen to the 40-player national team pool eight months ago, Staples now might be cross-training in an attempt to win her third straight Amateur Athletic Union heptathlon title.

"Thori's personality is compatible with her progress," said N.CState coach Larry Gross. "A lot of people experience early success of this type and aren't ready for it, but her parents [Thurston and Sonda] have instilled tremendous values, so Thori stays humble."

Staples "thought he was joking" when informed by Gross lasNovember that she had made the national pool.

Yet she has taken part in every major competition this springincluding the national team's third-place finish in a tournament in Greece during late March; the June 19 victory over Italy in Columbus, Ohio; and the win over Canada in Detroit.

"After my first two matches with the national team, I learned fromistakes," said Staples. "There are things, tactically, about defending that I'm still adjusting to at this level."

Staples will be in Ontario this weekend for the soccer portion othe World University Games, which will feature teams from Australia, Taiwan and Japan. She is also a candidate for the July 20-Aug. 1 Olympic Festival in San Antonio.

AStill, Staples isn't guaranteed a spot on the 18-player World Cup team. Several eligible players competed for the 1991 World Cup titlist that edged Norway, 2-1.

"I'm convinced that Thori can shut down or frustrate any player in the world," said Gross, whose Wolfpack squad also includes Norway's national team sweeper, Catherine Zabrowski. "What Thori's doing now is great, but she's going to get even better. Her potential is even greater than her present skills."

During high school, Staples also competed for soccer and track clubs.

Throughout her teen years, she played soccer for the seven-time State Cup champion Columbia Crusaders, alongside former All-Metro players Samantha Andersch and Jackie Rieschick (both of Hammond), Vicky Brunt and Natalie Rich (both of Centennial) and Amanda Simmons (Meade).

Staples left today with the under-19 Crusaders to compete in the U.S. Youth Soccer Association's four-day regional tournament in Princeton, N.J. -- a trip that will be cut short by her commitment to Saturday's University Games.

"I'm just trying to do what my coaches ask me to," said Staples. "I just go out and play hard every time."

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