Steamboat goalkeeper finding her “free”style | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat goalkeeper finding her “free”style

Sailor's soccer standout has hidden talent

Steamboat Springs High School goalkeeper Ocoee Wilson shows off her juggling moves at Gardner Field. In addition to being one of the state's top goalie, Wilson also excels at freestyle juggling.

As one of the top goalkeepers in the state, it’s a given that Steamboat Springs High School senior Ocoee Wilson has catlike reflexes, a terrific instinct to go get the ball and, of course, great hands.

But don't let her defensive nature fool you; her feet aren’t bad, either. Wilson has a hidden talent few people outside her team know about — unless they happen to be into freestyle juggling.

Wilson has set the mark in Steamboat when it comes to the art of juggling the ball with her feet — a common training technique used to help players develop "touch." Wilson, using nothing but her feet, thighs, chest, shoulders and head to keep the ball in the air, set a goal record of 2,553 touches without letting the ball fall to the ground. Not bad for a goalkeeper who could manage only 30 touches three short years ago.

"I just wanted to get better at juggling, just to have that as a resource," Wilson said Friday, the eve of Steamboat's showdown with Silver Creek in the second round of the Class 4A state playoffs. Wilson's skill handling the ball with her feet has only added to the confidence her teammates already had their goalie, who has signed a letter of intent to play with Dallas Baptist next year.

"You don't really expect goalies to have that kind of foot skill, but Ocoee is really, really good with her feet," said teammate Jordi Floyd.

Wilson and Floyd are part of a large group of senior players who grew up spending their spring and fall seasons making their marks on the soccer field with club programs sponsored by the Steamboat Spring Youth Soccer Association. The two senior players possess a similar competitive spirit, which isn't lost when it comes to juggling a soccer ball.

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"Ocoee definitely has the upper hand when it comes to juggling right now." Floyd said. "She is really, really good at juggling. I love to watch her tricks, and the tricks she performs when she is juggling are amazing."

Floyd still recalls when Wilson showed up for her club team's first official fall practice a few years ago. Back then, Floyd was the best juggler on the team and had set the bar very high with more than 800 touches without letting the ball touch the ground. Floyd said she could tell immediately that Wilson has spent a lot of time working on juggling during the break and had upped her game when it came to juggling.

Wilson had been inspired by watching a Danish freestyle footballer named Michael Toft online.

"He was my inspiration,” she said. “Because of him, I started trying tricks, and then, I just fell in love with it."

That year, Wilson traveled to Seattle for the USA Freestyle Football Championships, where she competed for the first time.

The event gave the Steamboat goalkeeper a new avenue to express her creative spirit, as well as a new perspective on what it means to be the player in the net.

"I thought that a goalkeeper who competed in freestyle soccer was pretty uncommon. I thought that I was one of a kind," Wilson said. "But then, the first girl I met there was also a goalie, and I thought that it was crazy that we were both goalkeepers."

These days, however, Wilson thinks there is a reason goalkeepers are drawn to the sport of freestyle, and the idea that a goalkeeper would not be good at freestyle seems absurd.

"You see the field players, and they want to learn the tricks," Wilson said. "But I don't think they have the same mindset that really pushes them to keep going with freestyle. As a goalie, you want to have something special about yourself, and I think that's what drives goalkeepers to go further with freestyle football."

At the same time, Wilson doesn't like preconceived ideas and realizes some field players are also driven when it comes to competing in freestyle events, such as the USA Freestyle Football Championships, F3 World Tour, Superball World Open Championships and Red Bull Street Style.

This week, as she looks forward to one of the biggest games of her high school career, Wilson’s focus isn't on tricks, unless that means preventing a goal. But the great feeling is still there when she lands a difficult one.

"I remember the first time I ever landed an "Around the World." I don't think anything will ever beat that feeling. I'm pretty sure that I ran into my house and cried to my family. I was so happy," Wilson said.

But Wilson said there is also a great feeling that comes from playing in a big game and coming away with a huge save — something she hopes she can do Saturday when the Sailors look to advance in the state playoffs.

"I think there is a point where saving a goal gives you a sense of, ‘I just saved my team,’" Wilson said. "It gives you a sense of importance."

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966