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With opening day approaching, Katie Schoepfer is nearly bursting with anticipation and excitement.
Schoepfer will likely be in the starting lineup when the Boston Breakers host the Washington Spirit to kick off their National Women's Soccer League season on Sunday night at Dilboy Stadium in Somerville, Mass.
"I'm not really sure words can describe how excited I am," Schoepfer said earlier this week. "It's going to be a great season for us and I'm excited to be back with the Breakers."
The fact that Schoepfer, a 24-year-old forward, will play an important role for the Breakers is a direct result of her determination and hard work.
Schoepfer, who set the Connecticut high school girls' soccer career scoring record during her glory days at Waterford High School and went on to star for Penn State, has never rested on her success. She's always looking to improve.
After enjoying her best season as a professional last year, she worked with a personal trainer during the offseason to help increase her fitness level, speed and explosiveness.
The workouts are paying off.
"I've already noticed it in my play so far this season," Schoepfer said. "After (a scrimmage against) Sky Blue, I was talking to my parents and they were saying how fast I was and how explosive I was. They've watched me play since I was five, so it shows that I'm making improvements."
Schoepfer's soccer career also is taking off. She ranked second on the team in scoring last season with a career-best seven goals and six assists while helping the Breakers post an 11-3 record and win the regular season championship in the Women's Premier Soccer League Elite.
"It was a great learning experience last year and gave me a confidence that I could do it in the league," Schoepfer said.
After the WPSL folded, Schoepfer was stuck in limbo before the new NWSL formed to fill the void.
The Breakers selected Schoepfer as the 11th pick overall in the second round of the league's supplemental draft. It is her third year with the franchise.
"She's really improved as a player," said Boston coach Lisa Cole when the Breakers announced Schoepfer's signing in February. "I think she's added to her game. She's always been a goal scorer. The last couple of years she's evolved and tweaked her fitness."
After her first season with the Breakers in 2011, Schoepfer realized she needed to improve her fitness level to make a bigger impact.
Rob Brule, Schoepfer's high school coach, recommended contacting Jeff Patten, a Bryant College women's soccer assistant and fitness expert with his own training facility in Smithfield, R.I.
Patten provided the expertise and extra push that Schoepfer needed.
"After my rookie season, I kind of realized that I needed more fitness," Schoepfer said. "I know if I have someone pushing me and telling me to do things, I do it. Otherwise, I struggle. Working with (Jeff) has been absolutely amazing. … It's been huge for me."
Patten worked with Schoepfer on several areas, including soccer-related movements.
The pair hit it off. Schoepfer enjoys Patten's enthusiasm and he likes her professional approach and willingness to learn. She also has spent time visiting with Patten's under-12 premier team.
"That's the most special thing about her that she is a competitive athlete but she has a coach's mind and cares about other people, which is kind of a unique thing when people get to that level," Patten said.
"She worked hard. She listened. Sometimes it's tough when you're told certain things throughout your whole life and then somebody you don't know tells you something different. She just had to trust me and she did."
Schoepfer has never felt better on the soccer field. She will continue to work with Patten for occasional tuneups.
"What's so cool about it is his enthusiasm makes me believe that I have so much more to get better with," Schoepfer said. "Even though I saw big gains and saw translation on the field, he tells me there's so much more. There's always something that I can be working on."