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H.S. girls' soccer: Hoops is last line of defense at Stonington

Stonington - Gabi Hoops, future engineering major, is a thinking person's goalie.

"My goal during a game is to be so good at communicating (with the defense), I don't have to stop a shot," said Hoops, a senior at Stonington High School about to begin her fourth season as the starter in goal for the girls' soccer team.

"She's a very intelligent goalie and she's not the least bit shy," Stonington coach Dave Walsh said. "She'll let the defense know if they're not covering their people. The thing with her is she reads the game so well. She's about taking angles away. She can make phenomenal saves, as well, but she counts on her intelligence."

Hoops, an All-Eastern Connecticut Conference pick and a member of The Day's All-Area team, is part of a Stonington roster which did not lose a single senior from last season's team that finished second to eventual state champion Waterford in the ECC Medium Division (including a 1-1 tie against the Lancers).

It's a lineup, then, that fellow ECC coaches might look at and think, "Still?"

Stonington (7-9-2 overall, 6-2-2 ECC Medium) opens Wednesday at home against Fitch.

Hoops, the Bears' captain, can't wait.

"It's like a progression. It's your last year to make something special," she said at a recent practice, during which she had to wait for the lights to come on and carried on anyway, making saves from a shadowy end zone. "It's never been my team because I've never been a senior before. Now, everyone's looking up to me and the other seniors."

The Bears have 10 seniors, including All-ECC and all-state selection Gabby Silvia at forward, who finished with 12 goals and two assists last season, and honorable mention all-conference picks Tara Watrous (midfield) and Kaitlyn Whipple (defense).

Sarah Thomas, a first team All-ECC selection, and Gabby Soscia, an honorable mention pick, are junior defenders.

Then there's Hoops.

As a freshman, she earned the starting role in goal and recorded six shutouts, including one in the CIAC Class M state tournament against Haddam-Killingworth. She allowed just 1.1 goals per game as Stonington went 13-6.

Now, having given up softball and basketball - she was a member of the Pawcatuck Little League softball team which reached the Senior League World Series the summer before her freshman season - she has narrowed her focus.

Hoops has pared her college choices to Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Trinity and Connecticut College, any of which will afford her the opportunity to get her engineering degree while playing soccer at the Division III level.

Coincidentally, it was former Waterford coach Rob Brule, who retired after the Lancers' Class M state championship last year, who first put Hoops in goal when she was 12 years old.

Hoops plays for Brule as a member of the Southeast Soccer Club.

Brule calls Hoops the most athletic goalkeeper he's seen since former Waterford star Naomi Welsh.

"I knew she was a very good downhill skier, fearless, loved competition, not afraid to make a mistake. So, mentally she fit the mold of a goalkeeper and physically, well, she had great instincts," Brule said. "It makes for a great keeper. It makes for an elite keeper.

"Gabi gives Stonington a chance to win any game they play and will be on every college coach's short list. She is that good."

Her family is invested in the Stonington program just as much as Hoops.

Her mom, Ani, puts together CDs for each player with season highlights, set to music, Walsh said.

Walsh said the team's goal all along has been to "win everything" and that this team is the most focused it's been, all starting with its chief organizer.

"She leads by example," Walsh said of Hoops. "She's a great field leader. She organizes the back. She's a serious player, an outstanding goalkeeper and a great leader."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

Twitter: @vickieattheday

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