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Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Mewis: The bite behind No. 1 W-H

By Scott Barboza

WHITMAN, Mass. – If you’re rolling down the Interstate and pass a school bus with Cali Swag District’s “Teach Me How to Dougie” blaring out the windows, it’s probably Samantha Mewis and her Whitman-Hanson soccer teammates jamming on the way back from another victory.

The No. 1-ranked Panthers have yet to hit a hiccup along the way — outside of Saturday’s 1-1 tie against Weymouth — and remain unbeaten. Expectations are high, particularly with W-H coming off last year’s Division I South title season. However, the Panthers fell short of their goal in 2009, dropping a double-overtime heartbreaker to Acton-Boxborough in the state semifinals.

For Mewis, the state’s most decorated player, there remains just one goal she has yet to reach in her high school career — a state championship.

“We’re a different team from last year,” said Mewis, who has tallied 20 goals through 13 matches. “We were such a close team at the end of last year, but that forms over time, all those bus rides to road games.”

That’s where the music mix comes in.

The playlist may change, but one thing does not and that is Mewis’ ability to take over a match.

“She’s played the game at about as high a level as you can at this age,” Panthers head coach David Floeck said of Mewis. “But I think her greatest attribute is how much better she makes everybody around her. And that’s the mark of a great player — the ability to raise the level of play of everybody around you — and she certainly has done that.

“She calms everybody down. She’s been through those types of games before. That’s certainly a good thing for us.”

Mewis was named Massachusetts Gatorade Player of the Year last year as a junior, after a seeing little action as a sophomore. That’s because the Hanson native was away for most of the season with U.S. Women’s National team commitments. And she’s logged plenty of caps and passport stamps with its various programs.

Her first brush with the big time came in 2006, when she was invited to the U-14 Girls’ I.D. camp. That parlayed into time with the U-15 squad and so on. In 2008, she was one of three players born in 1992 to make the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup roster. Besides having the opportunity to play the world’s best in New Zealand, Mewis joined her older sister, Kristie, in becoming the first sister duo suit up for the Yanks at a Women’s World Cup.

“So many girls would get homesick on the trip,” Samantha said, “but there was always a piece of home there with me.”

Most recently, Mewis joined the U-20 National team, which captured the CONCACAF Women’s Championships in Guatemala, earning the U.S. a berth in the 2010 U-20 World Cup in Germany.

During the last four years or so, she’s traveled to Brazil, Spain and Trinidad and Tobago, among others. From those trips, she’s taken with her a carousel of memories: Children playing soccer with no shoes on in the streets of Rio de Janeiro, or the sightseeing trip to the “glowworm” caves of New Zealand, where the bioluminescent Arachnocampa’s put on a natural laser light display.

Her National team experience also yielded a relationship with U-20 head coach Jill Ellis, who will continue as Mewis’ coach when she arrives at UCLA next fall.

Mewis considered Florida State and Virginia before giving her verbal commitment to the Bruins, but she knew it was a natural fit from the start.

“I loved the people and the campus. I didn’t want to go to a school and a team that plays kick and run. I wanted to play with a more possession-oriented team because I think that’s more my style. It’s a good fit.”

Kristie, who already has compiled 25 points through 14 matches in her sophomore season at Boston College, thinks Samantha’s game will translate well to the next level.

“We do play a little different in styles,” the elder Mewis said. “I’ve always been more attack-oriented, but she’s a good ball-winner and plays well on the possession side. I think she could make a really good defensive center mid in college.”

Her sister is among the key elements to which Samantha credits to her development as a young player. There was her father Bob’s tutelage in her town league games as a child and the guiding hands of Fred Marks with the Scorpions Soccer Club and Floeck at W-H.

Of course, her time with the National development teams has only pushed her harder. And Kristie’s always been there along the way.

“We’re really competitive,” Samantha said. “She’s definitely hard on me. We fight some, but I’ve learned that she’s only tougher on me because she wants me to be better. She’s taught me never to take it for granted that you have the opportunity to play soccer.

“From getting the chance to play internationally, my development has obviously improved a lot. But playing at home has helped me get to the National team. That’s been just as important playing international.”

Mewis’ contributions to the Panthers go without question, but it is what she brings to the game intellectually that her coach will miss most.

“A lot of the times, she’s like having another coach out on the field,” Floeck said. “That’s valuable.”

Meanwhile, Mewis said those long bus rides to road matches, with the bass thumping and laughter all the way, those will be the things she misses most.

Is she embarrassed by their song selection? Hardly anybody will remember how to do the Dougie beyond 2011, right?

“No, not at all. That’s our jam. You can print that.”