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Steele Canyon captain a team player

01/23/2014, 2:58pm PST
By Kevin J. Farmer, Special to the U-T

Soccer coach calls senior Sierra Nager ‘selfless’ on the field.

Steele Canyon senior Sierra Nager is a key contributor on defense as the Cougars try to win a fifth straight league title.

Sierra Nager has the talent to do it all on the soccer field -- and the humility to do exactly what her team needs her to do.

The Steele Canyon High School senior captain sacrificed many of her chances for offensive glory by moving back to strengthen the defense, leading the Cougars’ efforts to win a fifth league title in a row.

“I love my team, I’ll play wherever they need me,” said Nager, whose natural position is center midfielder, which she plays year-round with her club team, the San Diego United Football Club out of El Cajon.

“(Sierra) has to be the most selfless player I’ve ever had,” said Steele Canyon coach Charlie Cleaves. “She’s sacrificing to play defense for us. I’m sure she could be one of our leading scorers if we put her up front; I’m equally sure if we were forced to put her in the goal she would do an outstanding job.”

With Nager leading the defense and its depth up front, Steele Canyon has outscored opponents 48-11 and has put together a 12-2 record through action last week. Good enough to be ranked No. 3 in the county.

Playing on the defense hasn’t put Nager in the back seat of the offense. Her overlapping runs up the right side often ignite many of the Cougars’ scoring chances. Her deft feeds and powerful free kicks open up scoring chances for her teammates.

While another Grossmont Hills League title remains the team’s immediate focus, a CIF section title would be a dream come true and the exorcism of a nightmare that haunts them.

Last year, the Cougars saw their season and 20-game winning streak end when they lost in the eighth round of penalty kicks to eventual champion Westview in the Division II Semifinals.

“We were all so upset with that,” Nager said of the game that was scoreless through 80 minutes of regulation. “It was an amazing game, though. It has really given us a drive and a passion for this year.”

So far this year Steele Canyon’s only hiccups are a pair of one-goal tournament losses. They lost to then-top-ranked Torrey Pines 2-1 in the Butch Lee Tournament and had a 1-0 loss to once-beaten Rancho Cucamonga of the Southern Section in the Nike SoCal Classic.

The highlight of the season so far has to be the 3-1 victory in mid-December over their nemesis, Westview, a team that also eliminated Steele Canyon from the playoffs in Nager’s freshman year.

“It was super exciting to have a chance to prove ourselves against them,” Nager said.

One of the keys to the Cougars’ success is their chemistry. Many of her teammates play alongside Nager on her club team.

“We do a lot of team bonding,” she said. “We’re more like a family than a team. We play for each other; just like coach teaches us.”

For Nager, part of the team is family. Her sister Savanna is a sophomore with the varsity.

“It’s great to have my sister on the team,” she said. “She was all set to be on varsity last season until she had back surgery early in the season. We’ve gotten a lot closer in the last few years; I’m going to miss her when I go to college.”

Nager, whose GPA this semester is 4.5, has no firm college plans, but she’s traveling to Tucson soon to talk to coaches at the University of Arizona about playing for the Pac-12 Wildcats.

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