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S.J. girls' soccer player of the year: Amirah Ali, Eastern

Amirah Ali said she found out by phone last week. It was someone, she doesn't remember exactly who, from the the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.

Amirah Ali said she found out by phone last week.

It was someone, she doesn't remember exactly who, from the the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.

She'd received a similar call in years past. They would reach out to tell her she had been named a high school all-American.

A great honor to be sure.

But this was different.

"I was in shock. I wanted to say something, but I really couldn't," Ali said after she was told that she had been named the NSCAA national player of the year, a distinction given to the nation's top high school soccer player.

"It's just such an honor. It just makes you that much more grateful for all the support I've had, all the great teammates I've had."

It was the type of recognition that fuels the perception that the high school game was easy for Ali, who was named the Inquirer's South Jersey player of the year for the second straight season.

She was so fluid and obviously talented.

It's true that she couldn't be stopped by a single player. And it's true that her talent at times actually transcended some teams'.

But the real story of Ali's career with the Eastern girls' soccer team is one of a girl who never stopped working. Ali scored at least one goal in 14 of the 16 games she played this season.

She totaled 27 goals and seven assists through those 16 games, giving her 99 goals and 53 assists for her illustrious career. Both are school records.

But more telling than the sum total of goals is the consistency with which she scored them. Ali played in the Olympic Conference American Division, the toughest in the state, laced with future Division I players.

And every one of those teams, with all those talented players, was bent on stopping Ali.

Entire game plans were designed to keep her from scoring.

But Ali, game after game, refused to be denied.

"Everybody threw a lot of junk defenses at her. Some teams would double- or triple-team her," said Eastern coach Jamie McGroarty. "Some teams would put a girl in front of her and one in the back. Some teams would be physical with her, with numbers on her. But she always seemed to find a way to get things done."

In addition to being named national player of the year, Ali, a Rutgers recruit, played in only 16 games this year because she missed seven games midseason while on a trip to Ireland with the U.S. under-18 women's national team.

The sum of her efforts was one of the most celebrated high school seasons in South Jersey history.

"It was my senior year, so I wanted to make sure I came out really strong," Ali said. "I spent a lot of time learning how to handle myself while being double- teamed and triple-teamed. But I wanted to make sure I did it for my team.

"These games teach you confidence. If I can train myself to get through two or three players, it shows you, you'll be fine when you get to college and you're seeing more one-vs.-one situations."

What Ali was really excited for this season was her team's success.

Eastern (15-4-4) won its fifth consecutive conference title, especially notable considering the conference featured all four of the top teams (Eastern, Shawnee, Washington Township, and Lenape) in the Inquirer's final Top 10.

Ali made everyone around her better.

But she was a show unto herself. And it's a show that should only gain a bigger audience. She is headed to Rutgers next. She hopes to be continue her time with the national team, and she could very well play professionally some day.

But, as a backup plan, according to the always humble superstar, she'll study nursing at Rutgers.

McGroarty seems to think it might be a while before she needs that degree.

"I think she can accomplish anything she puts her mind to. She has the skill, the speed, and the athletic ability, that rare combination," he said. "She played in the senior all-star game this year against all of the all-South Jersey players. And for the first time, she wasn't marked. And she scored four goals in 20 minutes against the best of the best. I think that, right there, shows what kind of player she is."