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Michele Micciche is the 2014 Fauquier Times Highland School Girls Athlete of the Year

Thursday, Aug. 7 | By Jeff Malmgren
Michele Micciche will play soccer at High Point University next season. --Fauquier Times Staff Photo/Randy Litzinger
Michele Micciche used a GMC truck as her changing room for a few years.

She contorted in a passenger seat while her mother drove from Warrenton to Haymarket so Micciche could play with two different soccer teams in one day.

Micciche often wore a Highland Hawks soccer uniform for afternoon games. Then, during that drive, she switched clothes for practice in the evenings with her Virginia Soccer Association team.

Soccer was more than her stylist, though. The sport consumed her time in high school, and the recent Highland School graduate will continue to play in college on scholarship at High Point (N.C.) University.

So her athletic identity is undeniably Soccer Player, which makes her success in basketball all the more remarkable. Micciche was named Delaney Athletic Conference Player of the Year this past girls basketball season, prior to earning that same honor during the girls soccer season.

Her dominance and dedication in both sports helped make her an easy choice for the 2014 Fauquier Times Highland Girls Athlete of the Year.

"She knew that her club [soccer] team was the most important thing to getting her" a college scholarship, Hawks soccer coach Reynolds Oare said. "But Highland was not sacrificed.

"It just amazed me she never missed anything for us," he said. "That's extremely demanding. She obviously cared. ... That was just so awesome to see."

Micciche often left her Leesburg home around 7 a.m. on weekdays, spent the day in class at Highland, practiced or played with the Hawks and then joined the VSA Heat for practice at 8 p.m. She finally got back home around 10:30 p.m.

"And she'd still leave it all on the field" every day, Micciche's mother, Rene, said. "I don't know if I could do it.

"There was never an 'Oh, gosh, I don't want to go to practice,'" Rene Micciche said. "She never dreaded it."

On weekends, Michele Micciche would often play a game with Highland on Friday afternoon and then hop in a car and travel as many as six hours to get to a VSA Heat tournament site.

"She'd be right back Monday and be at practice," Oare said. "And she still had a great attitude. Ninety percent of adults … would probably be dragging a little bit."

Micciche helped the Highland Hawks finish this past season with a 6-5-2 record after they qualified for the VISAA Division II state tournament. Meanwhile, her VSA Heat 96 Blue team just finished as runner-up in the U.S. Youth Soccer national championship under-17 tournament Sunday at the Maryland SoccerPlex.

The Heat previously won the Region I tournament championship and entered nationals as the No. 1 ranked team in the country. It lost in the national final, 1-0, to the DMCV Sharks Elite from California.

"Just an awesome experience," Micciche said of advancing to the final. "We worked all year for this. It's the highest honor you can have."

She ended up getting the best of all worlds in soccer. She got to play with her friends at Highland, reached the national pinnacle with her travel soccer team and secured a 50 percent scholarship from High Point.

"It's soccer, soccer, soccer, but it's something I love to do, so I don't mind," Micciche said of her schedule. "I couldn't imagine life with out it.

"It's not like a job for me," she said. "It's still like I'm that 4-year-old kid again, just being lucky enough to go out on the field."

Early evidence

Isabelle Byers plays for the Princeton University women's soccer team.

Four years ago, she was the 2011 VISAA D-II Player of the Year as a Wakefield senior. That's the year Highland coach Reynolds Oare decided to use a freshman to mark Byers when the Hawks played Wakefield.

Michele Micciche was that freshman.

"I'll never forget it," Oare said. "She shut her down."

Micciche not only kept Byers from scoring, she also produced a goal with a header off a corner kick, Oare said, and that's the game in which he fully realized her tremendous talent.

Compared to most juniors and seniors, "she was already far and away above them in skill and ability," Oare said. "And she was really close to being stronger and faster than them."

Micciche was named Highland's girls soccer MVP that freshman season, and she repeated that feat each of the next three years. She finished her career with 44 goals and 21 assists.

"Great player, great work ethic, passing accuracy, creativity, all that stuff," Oare said.

Micciche typically played forward for her VSA Heat travel team, but Oare often used her instead as an attacking center midfielder for Highland. She finished her senior season with 11 goals -- four in one game -- and three assists.

"I had to play her more in the middle … because she affected the game in so many ways and made everybody around her better," Oare said. "Even though I knew she's be great, I couldn't justify playing her up top. … She never complained – never whined about that."

As a midfielder, Micciche excelled with the ball at her feet. Using an aggressive mindset and penchant for physical contact, she also used her body well to win 50/50 balls.

Rene Micciche began to see such skills manifest in her daughter years ago. Michele Micciche was clearly talented at age 8. She was also completely competitive having grown up with an athletic brother only 17 months older than her.

"Sometimes at that age they're: 'Oh, look, there's a daisy over there,' or 'Oh, Suzy, what'd you do at school today?' Rene Micciche said. "Michele was more focused on the game.

"And it's not just about going out and playing the game," she said. "It's about coming home with the win."

Micciche got her daughter into soccer at age 4 after she grew up playing the sport in Argentina.

"I loved the game, so I pushed soccer a little bit," Micciche said. "She really liked it. Soccer was, for some reason, her passion."

Dominant defense

Gary Leake found a perfect anecdote during the 2012-13 basketball season.

The Hawks' head coach now uses it to explain to newcomers the objective of Highland's half-court trapping defense.

Michele Micciche gets featured billing in the telling of that story.

Two seasons ago, when Micciche was a junior, the Hawks forced four consecutive turnovers and scored off each one against an opponent Leake has decided to keep anonymous. As the lead player of Highland's zone defense, Micciche initiated each of the traps that created those turnovers in the first quarter.

The opposing point guard could barely get the ball over half court, Leake said, and after that fourth consecutive turnover the opposing coach was forced to take a time out.

"We all had a smile on our face when that girl left the floor throwing her hands up in the air, as if: 'What am I supposed to do? I can't advance the ball,'" Leake said. "The ability to frustrate opponents."

"That's the type of tenacity that she played with," he said of Micciche. "Being that dominant defensive player."

Micciche also scored 27 points in a game as a senior point guard. She nevertheless considers herself a "defensive specialist."

"I love being on defense," she said. "I loved to steal the ball."

To wit, Micciche scored many of her points in transition and produced plenty assists after the Hawks forced turnovers. When she scored those 27 points during a 58-36 win over Trinity Christian, the Hawks had 23 steals that helped fuel their offense.

"She was able to anticipate better than anyone I've ever coached," Leake said. "She knew where she needed to be and rarely was she ever out of position."

Micciche, in fact, led the Hawks with an extraordinary 7.9 steals per game this past season. She also had 4.4 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game.

She credited soccer for her physical, aggressive approach on the basketball court.

"That carried over," she said. "I think I'm a really tough player in a lot of aspects of the game. Not just physically, mentally."

Few players on the basketball court or soccer field could match Micciche's physical strength and willingness to use it, her coaches said.

"Not even close," Oare said. "A 50/50 ball, she was going to win it."

"She's just a tough-nosed kid," Leake said. "She was equally aggressive on offense sometimes, penetrating hard and finishing strong. She can go and take a hit on a layup."

Micciche led Highland (10-9) with 14.8 points per game as a senior, eclipsing the 20-point mark in a handful of games, including contests against Middleburg and Christ Church. She even produced a triple-double against Fredericksburg Christian with 18 points, 10 steals, 10 rebounds and two assists during a 54-47 win.

"But I had to work on my shot a lot," Micciche said. "It didn't just come to me easily."

She had to nurture her confidence as a point guard, too.

Micciche, a three-year starter, played shooting guard much of her Highland career, but then Leake made her starting point guard as a senior. She didn't feel the transition was seamless.

"It's kind of scary [for a team] knowing your point guard isn't confident," she said.

Leake said that kind of talk is just Micciche being a perfectionist.

"There's no such thing as a perfect point guard," he said. "She had less turnovers as a point guard than as a shooting guard the year before. That stat speaks for itself.

"I knew she had the leadership ability to be a point guard, but I really challenged her to improve her ball handling," he said, "and she improved tremendously."

Micciche had no such insecurities as the "point" of Highland's trapping defense, which gave Leake supreme confidence in her. He agreed that playing soccer made her a better defender in basketball.

"It's her soccer instincts. She was able to anticipate passing lanes," he said. "We set all of our traps out of her athleticism."

So perhaps it's not a surprise that Micciche played basketball at such a high level despite devoting so much time to soccer.

"She took on basketball as a competitive challenge," Leake said. "Failing is not an option with her. This is a rare kid who is really the entire package."

Her High Point

Although Michele Micciche committed to High Point as a Highland junior, she probably could have played for plenty of NCAA Division I programs, said Steve Smith, the head coach of Micciche's VSA Heat team.

"I would expect her to contribute right away her freshman year and compete for a starting spot," he said of High Point. "Her game is going to really take off. … Michelle is your prototypical college forward."

The University of Maryland was among the other teams that showed interest in Micciche.

Regardless, she never had second thoughts about verbally committing to High Point in February 2013.

"When I first visited, I just knew this is where I wanted to go," she said. "I just fell in love."

Micciche eliminated a lot of schools from her wish list after attending a recruiting camp at Florida State University. She got a glimpse of the vast campus and cavernous classrooms that accommodated 400 soccer players during the camp.

"It was just too big for me," she said of FSU. "I've been in [small] private schools my whole life."

She should feel more comfortable at High Point, which has around 4,000 students.

Micciche began talking with Panthers coaches during the summer following her sophomore year at Highland. She later attended a camp at High Point and was among the recruits selected to scrimmage with Panthers players.

Following that scrimmage, High Point head coach Marty Beall summoned Micciche and her parents into his office, they said, where he offered her a scholarship.

"We took it right away," Micciche said.

She didn't receive any other scholarship offers because she committed so early, but that also gave her a chance to get acclimated early to her future teammates.

"I've been in contact with them a whole year now," Micciche said. "I'm anxious to get there and start playing with them. They're already like my family."

Micciche also knows well a group of High Point students who graduated last year from Highland with her brother, Jack, the 2013 Fauquier Times Highland Boys Athlete of the Year. While there, she plans to major in business and perhaps pursue a career in accounting.

On the field, Michele Micciche expects to play forward for the Panthers.

"I can't imagine that she wouldn't have a good career there," Reynolds Oare said. "She's not going to be the best [player on the field as a freshman], but she'll deal with that well. She'll do whatever it takes to get herself to that point.

"She's going to have the drive," he said. "I'm excited to see what happens."

Although soon to be a college freshman, Micciche was only recently an upperclassman leader at Highland who helped neatly stitch a group of young soccer players into the existing fabric of the Hawks' roster. Her welcoming and benevolent attitude helped the Hawks finish the 2013 season with an 11-5-2 record and a runner-up finish in the VISAA D-II state tournament.

"There wasn't much expectation we were going to compete in the conference much less go to the state tournament and make the run that we did," Oare said. "What Michele did for those girls last year, I will never forget that."

With no regard for the hierarchy that listed her as Highland's best player, Micciche took a group of young players under her wing, including three starting eighth graders and a couple freshman starters.

"These eighth graders, there was a lot of talk about them – that they're really good players," Oare said. "It could be misconstrued that 'They're coming in on my territory.'

"It was the complete opposite," Oare said. "It was almost like she acted like an eighth grader with them. She was a goof ball with them, which was awesome, and I'm sure it helped their confidence."

Micciche's mother saw the same phenomenon.

"She never looked down on them because they were young," Rene Micciche said. "That helps a team jell, and when a team jells, they play better."

Basketball brought the same leadership qualities out of Michele Micciche.

"She's the type of kid that's the reason coaches coach," Leake said.

"I think a lot of people around Highland are going to miss her," Oare said.

- - - - -

The Micciche File

Nickname: Meesh.

Family: Father, Carmen, and mother, Rene, own a group of Subway franchises. Brother, Jack, 19, is a Highland School graduate and Mercer University men's lacrosse player.

Favorite restaurant: Outback Steakhouse. "And I guess I have to say I love Subway. I eat it all the time."

Favorite athletes: Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach. "They're great role models for me. I like to watch them and see what I can pick up."

Favorite sports team: United States women's national soccer team.

Favorite soccer situation: "Like any forward, I like breakaways."

Favorite actor: Channing Tatum. "Because he's hot."

Favorite movie: "Magic Mike." "And I love Disney movies."

Favorite TV shows: "Pretty Little Liars" and "Orange is the New Black." "I watch a lot of crime shows too … with my mom. It's kind of our thing."

Favorite music artist: Timeflies. "My brother introduced me to them a couple years ago and I just love their music."

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