Grace Withrow may be more responsible for Valparaiso's deep postseason run than any other Viking.
The junior came up with big plays and important goals to settle her team at points when Valpo seemed nervous not quite ready for the moment.
She scored two of the Vikings' three goals in two regional games. She scored the goal that allowed Valparaiso to get to and eventually beat Homestead in a penalty-kick shootout in the semistate semifinal.
"I think that playing under pressure is something that I’ve learned to deal with over the past few years, whether it be taking a P.K. at semistate or knocking down crucial free throws down the stretch," Withrow said. "I knew this season that I was a captain and needed to perform well under pressure and always stay composed so that my teammates wouldn’t freak out."
The goal that pushed the Vikings past rival Crown Point in the regional final is the one she'll remember.
"Being hugged and even kissed by my teammates after scoring the goal that put us up 1-0 is a feeling that is indescribable," Withrow said. "It’s a moment of pure joy that not many things in life can give you."
Withrow's composure in crunch time is just one of the reasons she's the 2013 Times Player of the Year.
"She has a quality shot on goal from close or far range, which is expected to be key in tight games," coach Rob Cespedes said. "She knows her responsibilities and takes them seriously and proudly."
When told that more than one region coach suggested her as player of the year, Withrow said she hoped they saw more than her stat sheet.
"It’s very humbling to find out that coaches and representatives from various other schools recognized my talents and decided to choose me for this incredible honor," Withrow said. "I hope that the aspect of my game that really stuck out to them was my passion, pride, leadership and will to win."
"I think that the soccer skills and stats are very important, don’t get me wrong, but the mental stuff is crucial."
The mental stuff is going to be crucial as Withrow transitions into her winter role as the Vikings' starting point guard.
One thing's for sure: She can be counted on in the clutch.
"Our team this year was young and maybe not as talented as we’ve been in the past, but. boy. did we play with heart and that’s why we were successful," Withrow said. "I believe my love for the game and the love for my teammates made me a better soccer player this season."