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Two athletes, two schools, two universities, one love


One of the lesser known, but most heartwarming sports stories of the fall is a tale of two athletes, two universities and the love of one sport.

Rebecca Dodele of St. Vincent High School and McKenzie Maher of Petaluma High School have been awarded partial scholarships to continue their education and soccer careers by California universities. Dodele will attend University of the Pacific in Stockton, while Maher will continue her education at Sonoma State University.

The two have crossed paths many times during what have already been long soccer careers, including playing on the same Sonoma County Alliance Club 97 team. They have shared some of the same club coaches and earned many of the same honors for their play on the field. Although they played on different high school teams, both have been instrumental in leading their teams to success during their prep years. Now, both will continue their sports and academic careers at universities both feel are a perfect fit.

REBECCA DODELE

Dodele said she chose the University of Pacific because it reminds here a lot of St. Vincent, a high school she has grown to love.

"It is a small community like St. Vincent with a lot of people who really seem to care for one another," she explains. "The teacher-student ratio is small. The campus is really beautiful. It felt like home."

She said she had pretty much narrowed her choice to Pacific or Fresno State and, after a visit to the Pacific campus, the choice was down to one.

She also likes that Pacific is part of the West Coast Conference, which will give her a chance to play against teams like BYU, San Diego, St. Mary's and Portland. "It is a very tough conference, and I'm looking forward to playing against those teams," she says.

Dodele still hasn't decided on a major. "I'm going to explore a major in psychology, but I'm not really sure," she says.

Although soccer is her love, Dodele is an all-around athlete who enjoys competing no matter what the sport. In high school she has played basketball and track in addition to soccer and has also been a softball player. In her senior season, even as she prepares for college, she started in the fall playing soccer, quickly transitioned to basketball and, as soon as the North Central League II champion Mustangs finish with the North Coast Section playoffs, will move on to track. This is all in addition to playing almost year round for her SCA team and maintaining a 3.6 grade point average.

"It all gets tough at times, especially when I was trying to fill out college applications, play soccer and basketball and study. It is all about time management and picking and choosing what is most important to you," she says.

She has a case full of trophies. Just a few of her awards include All-Empire soccer for three straight years, NCL II MVP as a junior and a senior; SV Coaches Most Inspirational Player as a junior and a senior; SV Triple Crown Three-Sport varsity athlete for four straight years; first-team all-league in basketball as a junior; MVP varsity girls track as a freshman and sophomore, team captain as a junior; NCS qualifier in track as a freshman and sophomore; and SV Young Maturing Athlete Award as a freshman.

While high school sports are important to Dodele, she, like most high school soccer players, was "discovered" through the many showcase tournaments she played in with her SCA team.

For her, the high school sports are different and "really fun," not only because she and her teammates have been successful, but also because of the many friends she has made.

Even as she contemplates her collegiate future, Dodele is preparing for the biggest part of her high school basketball season as she and her teammates go into post-season play after ripping their way undefeated (14-0) to the NCL II championship.

"Basketball is really a lot of fun," she says. "There is great chemistry on our team."

She is the daughter of Rich and Sheryl Dodele and has two brothers, Richey and Trevor.

"The support of my parents has definitely been important," she says. "I couldn't have done anything without their support."

Dodele lives in Coati and attended Mountain Shadows Middle School before transferring to St. Vincent. "In the end it worked out well," she understates.

MCKENZIE MAHER

Maher has been playing soccer for 14 years. She is now 17. Combining math and the science of human development, that means she has been kicking a ball almost from the time she stopped toddling and started running.

For her, Sonoma State is a perfect fit. It has a great women's soccer program, it has a good academic reputation and it is close. "I love home, and I didn't want to go too far away," she explains.

And, she is very impressed with SSU coach Emiria Dunn. "I wanted to go there because of the coach. She is excellent," Maher explains.

Playing for Dunn will allow her to continue playing for a succession of outstanding coaches that have shaped her soccer career, beginning with Chris Daly, who was her first SCA coach and ended up coaching her again at Petaluma high School. Along the way, there has been a whole succession of other outstanding coaches, such as Trisa Ziemer, Chris Ziemer, current SCA coach Vinnie Cortezzo and several others. "Every single coach I've ever had has helped me," she says.

Maher is now experiencing what it feels like to be on the other side of the whistle, volunteering to work in a SCA program teaching 6-to-12-year-olds the game. "It's great," she says of her own coaching experience. "I'm enjoying every minute of it."

Maher has also come to love Petaluma High School, although she acknowledges it was difficult at first as she transferred to Petaluma as a freshman after attending Kenilworth Junior High. "I didn't know anyone, but being on the soccer team brought me into the school. It really helped," she explains.

An All-Sonoma County League and all-Empire player in high school, like so many other players, Maher's route to college came through her SCA team and her appearance in the showcase tournaments.

It was after an assistant SSU coach saw her play at the Davis Legacy Showcase as a junior that she received an e-mail saying the university was interested in her as a potential Seahawk.

'"I thought, 'Oh, my gosh! That's so cool.'" Maher recalls.

While soccer is a way of life for her, Maher is also concerned about her academic education. She really wants to study biomedical engineering, but the only engineering program offered by SSU is electrical engineering, so she will major in that, with a plan to do her biomedical engineering studies as a graduate student.

Maher has a solid 3.5 high school grade point average, a mark that is even more remarkable given that she is dyslectic, making studying and learning especially difficult.

"It sucks," she says simply of her disorder. "I have to read everything 10 times over to understand what I just read."

Maher has been in speech therapy since was in grade school. It wasn't until her junior year in high school that she was granted "accommodations" which allows her to receive extra help with her studies.

Basically, however, she has been able to be a success on and off the field the old-fashioned way — through hard work,

"I realized how important my academics were," she says. "Without the grades, I couldn't have gotten into college."

She also credits her family — father, Ryan; mother, Wendy; and brother, Sean with helping her achieve success. "I don't have the words to say how much I thank my parents for what they have done for me," she says. "They are my rock."

High school has been fun and productive for Maher, but now it is getting time to move on.

"I'm so ready for college and what the future holds for me," she says. One thing it certainly holds is more soccer.