Annie Speese has chased the pinnacles of soccer competition across this hemisphere.
She went to Costa Rica this past spring for a weeklong set of games and played eight games in nine days during the winter holidays in trips to Jackson, Miss., and Orlando, Fla.
For the first time this high school girls soccer season, these trips did not force Speese to miss any games with the Westminster girls team. Speese responded with what her coach says was her best season.
The junior scored a state-best 46 times and nearly led the Wildcats to their second consecutive Georgia Independent School Association Class AAA state title. Westminster lost in the title game. For adding to her school-record career totals of 136 goals and 75 assists, Speese is The Augusta Chronicle girls soccer player of the year for the second consecutive season.
Speese did not miss any games for the Wildcats this year, because her big trip of the season with a regional all-star team coincided with Masters Week and the area's weeklong break from high school sports.
As a member of the Region III ODP team -- essentially a collection of the top players from Texas to Florida to North Carolina and all parts in between -- Speese played games against different age groups of the Costa Rica national team. The team fought through a bout of food poisoning that left them shorthanded for their final game.
"We battled through it," Speese said.
Speese returned from the trip and nearly led her team to another state title. The Wildcats won the school's first title the previous year. Speese scored twice in the last 14 minutes of a shorthanded semifinal win over Macon's First Presbyterian Day. Two days later, exhausted and spent, the team lost to Stratford Academy.
"The thing that's always struck me about Annie -- beyond her technical ability -- is her focus," said Augusta Prep coach Tom Norton, who had previously coached Speese on an Augusta Arsenal club team. "She's very committed, works very hard and loves the game."
Westminster coach Mike Freace believes this season was the best Speese has played, because of the way she maintained a sense of skill, ability and leadership through a hip injury.
Speese originally committed to play the University of Georgia last fall, but has since reopened her options after coach Patrick Baker resigned for personal reasons in March. She expects to sign with a Division-I school during her senior season.