Carlie Stokes hopped a fence and dodged security guards a year ago to watch the Chaminade High girls' soccer team win the Southern Section Division III championship at Gahr High in Cerritos.
When the Eagles try to earn their second consecutive division title against Glendora St. Lucy's at Gahr tonight, Stokes will be in the center circle, not in the stands.
Stokes, a senior transfer from Santa Maria Righetti, is the best player on the region's best girls' team--a squad that includes 10 of the 11 starters from last season.
"In my mind we didn't need another player," Chaminade Coach Mike Evans said. "But after she enrolled and I saw her being a leader and saw her skills, my eyes widened."
Stokes, a sinewy 5 feet 6, plays central midfield with reckless abandon. She still has a trace of a black eye suffered in the Eagles' Feb. 27 quarterfinal victory over Notre Dame.
"Carlie will go through anyone to get a ball," Evans said. "She scares me. A girl will have a clear path to the ball and Carlie will go after her so hard that you wonder if she has any brains."
At Righetti, Stokes was a three-time All-Northern League selection and the Warriors' most valuable player last season. A search for more intense competition prompted her transfer.
Beginning in her sophomore year, Stokes regularly commuted to the Valley to play on a club team. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, she would leave Santa Maria at 2:30 p.m. and return about midnight. She spent the weekends in Woodland Hills with the family of club teammate Kim Nelli, Chaminade's goalkeeper.
Stokes' parents grew concerned with her five-hour round-trip commute and were willing to listen when the Nelli family offered to have Carlie live with them if she was accepted at Chaminade.
Stokes, who carried a 3.4 grade-point average at Righetti, passed the entrance exam and moved into the Nellis' house in August.
"All the obstacles that seemed to be there melted away," said Carlie's father, Bill Stokes. "She has very high aspirations for her soccer and it seemed like the right thing to do."
Any worries about Stokes fitting into the team ended early. Already a club teammate of seven Chaminade players, Stokes earned instant respect during the Eagles' preseason conditioning tests.
Described by her mother Margie as a "workaholic," Stokes has gained a reputation as an enthusiastic practice player.
Earlier this season, her teammates rushed off the field after a workout that was moved up two hours. Stokes had not been notified and was driving back from a visit to Santa Maria, causing her to arrive at the end of the session.
"None of the girls wanted to be at the field when Carlie got there," said Evans, who stayed an additional two hours to work with Stokes. "She was almost in tears when she found out she'd missed a practice."
She's not bad when the games start, either. She is second on the team with 12 goals and 13 assists.
Stokes' motor seemingly never idles. She's up at 5:30 a.m. on weekdays and at 6:30 a.m. on weekends to work out. Running and surfing are other outlets for her and she was an all-league tennis player at Righetti.
UC Irvine women's Coach Marine Cano, who coached Stokes on an Olympic Development regional team last year, warns that Stokes, who has signed with Pepperdine, will have to take her foot off the gas occasionally in college.
"She's going to have to settle down and let the ball do some of the work because the college game is so much quicker," Cano said. "But she's fearless and coachable and has a ton of potential. She's only going to get better."