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University Heights Academy’s Grace Pape is the 2020 Kentucky New Era girls’ soccer Athlete of the Year.

Everything University Heights Academy’s Grace Pape learned throughout her first three years as a Lady Blazer, she was ready to show it all off in last go around.

While the season didn’t finish the way she or her teammates would have liked, she still put a bow on a very good career as a Lady Blazer.

Her growth throughout her career that she put on display in her final year in the green and gold is why she is the 2020 Kentucky New Era girls’ soccer Athlete of the Year.

Pape played with many great players that went on to play college soccer. Alli Cundiff and Lily Strader to name a pair.

She said the things she learned playing with them dating all the way back to her freshman year — including a year in the backline — made her into the player she is today.

“Getting that experience playing center back with all those seniors, it was a real step up for me and it threw me in completely — I didn’t have an orientation to varsity soccer,” she said. “It made me able to see the whole field when I got back to being a center mid as a sophomore, junior, and senior.

“Playing alongside Lily, really helped me understand speed. She was really fast. When she was up and I was playing with the defense and getting the ball up, it helped me understand that we needed to get to the goal fast. … That really helped me my junior year when I was alone. Junior year I learned to play our outside wings. Junior year helped teach me to play wide. Not having that strong quick out to a striker and reset, you really learn to play into the defense into the midfield and play through the midfielders and strikers to the goal. That helped senior year when Kate came back. She was really fast but she checked to us more, which helped us play Kate, then to the outside wing and back to me or to the other side of the field.”

Coming off of a year where she was without her normal starting striker in Kate Cansler, Pape had to do a lot more than she planned on doing.

With Cansler back in the lineup for both of their senior seasons, the experience she got last year without her made her senior campaign an even better one.

“Having Kate back helped me be able to pass — it wasn’t all me having to shoot,” Pape said. “I had that fast striker. If I saw a slot that I could get in between the defense, she was fast enough to get there and get her own shot off rather than me having to take a shot from 30 or 40 yards because I couldn’t get past five or six defenders. It really just took that pressure off.”

Pape finished with 21 goals and 21 assists on the year, miles better than her junior year when she had 18 goals and just four assists.

She said coming into the season, she tried to become the best center midfielder she could be.

“I really tuned up my foot skills and conditioning,” Pape said. I was running seven or eight miles a day trying to be a really good center mid for my team and really support my whole team. Last year, I know I struggled a little bit because as a center mid, you have to go corner to corner and sideline to sideline.

“Being able to improve my foot skills, I was able to quickly maneuver myself to find those openings — that’s really what I worked on coming into the season.”

After the Lady Blazers bowed out in the Second Region semifinals, Pape has continued to look for her future in soccer and plans to continue her career at the collegiate level.

“I’m still looking at some schools and still talking to some coaches,” she said of her future. “That’s still a mystery.”

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