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Westminster's Speese was in 'different class'

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While in kindergarten, self-describe tomboy Annie Speese wanted to be just like her best friend.

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Annie Speese carried Westminster to the GISA Class AAA state semifinals this season and will continue her career at Florida.  Michael Holahan/Staff
Michael Holahan/Staff
Annie Speese carried Westminster to the GISA Class AAA state semifinals this season and will continue her career at Florida.

Speese was impressed by classmate Chandler Norris' "moves."

They were simple cuts, but to a 5-year-old, Norris might as well have been Ronaldo.

Since that time, Speese has become a star, whether it has been against boys and older players while growing up, or with Westminster, where she has attended school since pre-K.

Speese tallied 36 goals and 15 assists this season to not only finish as the Lady Wildcats' record-holder in career goals, assists and points, but also as The Augusta Chronicle 's girls soccer player of the year.

Speese helped her team reach the GISA Class AAA state semifinals this season to wrap up a career Westminster coach Mike Freace said is one of the best in the area's history.

"I think the first time I saw her on the soccer field, she was a sixth or seventh grader, and she was just a different class than everybody else," Freace said. "Honestly, I was like, 'What grade is she in? When are we going to get her?' I've coached (Olympic Development Program players) up in New York, and even coaching those girls, 'Wow this girl is a different class.' "

The midfielder's path to success included a time when she was the smallest player on the field.

Now 5-foot-7, Speese estimates she was three or four inches shorter in eighth grade, and the Wildcat realized at a young age she had to find ways to fend for herself since some kids relied on size to push others off the ball.

"A lot of times I would just run circles around them, like literally. When the ball was 30 yards away, I would just run in a circle around them," Speese said. "They'd just get annoyed and leave me for a couple minutes and then I'd get the ball and I'd be free. So I would just irritate them."

She started working on her touch in fifth grade and continues to perfect it, though she laughed off the notion of trying to duplicate or better her 4,367 touches in a row, bringing up how it can be boring and that there are more important things to work on.

With her rare skills, Speese helped the Wildcats win the state championship her sophomore season, something she said not many foes thought Westminster could accomplish.

"To me personally, it was the biggest win ever, just going from everything we've gone through with this team, just like how we were seen as underdogs, especially at the beginning of the season," Speese said. "We were hurt, and we got creamed in (early tournaments), and everybody didn't even consider us. But -- people don't believe me when I say this -- I had a feeling at the beginning of the season that that was our year."

Speese, who has also played up for the Augusta Arsenal, the Gwinnett Soccer Association and with ODP, is ready for her next challenge: Playing for the Florida Gators.

Speese originally committed to Georgia, but she changed plans when the coach left.

After also looking at Virginia, Speese signed with Florida. She heads to Gaineville on June 20 and hopes to get early playing time.

After more than a decade full of memories at Westminster, a place that helped her become a better Christian, person and athlete, Speese finally has to leave.

But she's taking her phenomenal touch, her Diego Maradona move and her new orange Lionel Messi Adidas cleats with her.

"It just shows that God works everything for a reason," Speese said about Florida. "I went down there and it was awesome. They have a great program. It was a better fit for me than even Georgia was. It was hard at first making the transition but now I'm more excited than ever."

Get to know Annie Speese

FAVORITE SPORTS MOMENT: "Definitely when we won state, just because it was the first time ever and it was pretty special."

FAVORITE ATHLETES: Tim Tebow and Lionel Messi

FAVORITE TEAM: FC Barcelona

FAVORITE CLASS: Biology

BEST ADVICE: "It's not about winning and losing. A lot of time, you put focus on whether or not you're going to win a game. But it's what you get out of it. You should focus on the character and glorifying God."


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