Her journey began on the youth soccer fields as a 5-yearold and, as she wraps up her freshman year at Homer Central School, Catherine Apker is a rising star at a high profile position on the Trojans’ girls’ varsity soccer team.
The 15-year-old will face her third season in goal for Homer in the fall of 2020 after being named an OHSL Liberty Division Second Team all-star this past season, but Apker is also making her name on the national soccer scene as a member of the United States Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program National Team.
Apker and her teammates were slated to travel to the Netherlands April 3-9, but those plans were dashed by the COVID-19 virus.
She is a three-sport athlete with basketball and softball her other sports, but soccer has a special place.
“I see the soccer girls as a family,” Apker said. “We are always hanging out together. As for the sport, I like I can see everything standing in goal. I really combine all sports because I can dive, I can kick. It’s really like an everything in one sport.”
She didn’t start out as a goalkeeper, but quickly took to the position.
“At first, I didn’t want to. On my first team nobody would be the goalie and you really had to volunteer to be one. One day I did and I loved it. I could dive, run around and use my voice.”
As she moved into junior high, Apker jumped right over the modified ranks and played on the JV team in seventh grade and moved to the Homer varsity starting goalkeeper role in eighth grade taking over for three-year starter Anna Gugerty who graduated.
Megan Cleary and Hillary Simon were three-year varsity starters as was Gugerty, but they were sophomores with their debuts. Apker made the jump earlier, actually starting a sectional game as a seventh-grader.
‘A LITTLE SCARY’
“It was a little scary because I was stepping into big shoes,” Apker said. “I’m trying to lead a team from the back as an eighth grader. The Homer girls are very accepting. I was expecting it to be rough being an eighth-grader on the team, but nothing bad happened. They accepted me, let me lead and help them out.”
Four years into her youth soccer career, Apker was also honing her skills in the Syracuse Development Academy.
“Catherine Apker has been an outstanding example of focus, hard work and discipline,” Bill Stanbro said. Stanbro is Apker’s SDA goalkeeper coach and SUNY Cortland Women’s Soccer Assistant Coach. “It’s very rare as a coach to have an athlete who is as driven as Catherine is. When I first started working with Catherine she was about 9 years old. She didn’t say much but she was always absorbing everything she was told. I knew she was a different type of athlete back then. As time went on Catherine excelled quickly. She was never satisfied with certain aspects of her game and continuously worked on her weaknesses. After a tough practice when she had difficulty grasping a technique she would go home and work on it in the yard with her brothers and make sure she had the technique down for the next practice and that’s what makes her special. We worked on technique, nutrition, strength, conditioning and even prepared for being interviewed by ODP and college coaches. She steadily improves so there’s no ceiling for her and she can do whatever she wants. It’s been my pleasure to see her come from a quiet 9 year old to develop into a strong team leader, who’s communication, humor and sass makes her amongst her team’s favorites.”
What’s it like playing in the Syracuse Development Academy?
“It’s a big level switch,” Apker said. “The game’s a lot faster at that level. You travel a lot more and you see a lot teams from all over. It’s a great experience.”
Apker quickly turned heads besides Stanbro.
“There were a whole bunch of coaches. My first SDA coach in Syracuse, Janine Bennett (former Dryden High girls’ varsity soccer coach), recommended I go and do ODP. That would be at first state level as a member in New York West and from there I just tried to advance as far as I could.”
Apker continued to advance from New York West to the East Regional Camp.
“It was really amazing,” she said. “I never really saw myself getting that high up in a matter of three years. I didn’t see myself making the team so I when I found out I was really excited.”
In the Region you aren’t just facing players from New York State, you start seeing players from up and down the East Coast and she got selected again for advancement.
“It’s incredible,” Apker said. “You start meeting a whole bunch of girls through all the experiences. Even if you don’t move on, you make friendships that you don’t break even though you are miles away.”
What are the biggest challenges you see playing at these different levels?
“You really need to keep up all year round.,” Apker said. “When you not playing in high school you still need to be training as much as you can even though you can’t practice with your team. You need to do it on your own and online. You need to take advantage of every little thing you can. If it’s a nice day, you go for a run. You look for a little field that’s not muddy or snowy. You use the gym or a turf field. You use everything.”
As a member of the East Regional Team, Apker headed to Boca Raton, Florida for tournament play.
‘AMAZING’ LEVEL OF PLAY
“That was really a high level,” she said. “There were scouts sitting on the sidelines. You knew the National coach was walking around and watching you. The level of play by the girls was amazing. I had to make a lot of saves. I saw girls with a lot of different moves and some of those were incredible.”
Apker’s play in Boca Raton continued to draw attention as she was off to the National Team Camp in Tampa, Florida.
“That was a tricky experience,” Apker said.”You were training twice a day or playing a game and training the same day. Again, there are many girls there who are playing year round. Many of them were from places like Florida and California, nice places where they are training every day outside. You have to adapt if you want to be selected. You need to figure out how to make yourself stand out.”
Apker made the cut and got the call that she made the National team.
“It was right before a basketball game here in Homer,” Apker said. “I was pacing everywhere trying to tell my parents and my coaches. It was so exciting. It was almost overwhelming. It was “Oh my God, this is really happening.””
What is the biggest growth-changes in your game at the young stage?
“Seeing the whole game in front of you and starting to read it ahead of time,” Apker said.” Get organized and see what is coming and know how to move for it. Understanding your team and how they can play. Every game is different and you need to know what your team can do, How can they be their most effective.”
You would think making the National Team will be the pinnacle, but it’s not.
“I just want to keep improving,” Apker said.”I made the National team this year, but I want to stay on it. I want to be a good part of the team. I will keep using Homer games and SDA games to increase my skill levels. I want to take advantage of every moment I am on the field.”
What does Apker think about the 2020-21 Trojan team?
“I think it’s going to be a great season. We’ve improved a lot and we have a lot of young players coming up. I think they will fill the seniors’ shoes. It is hard to do, but I think they can and we will have a good team.”
Right now, Apker can’t spend time with her teammates because of the COVID-19 virus. How is she staying ready for the upcoming season?
“It’s a little rough,” Apker said. “You’re stuck in your house so you still have to make everything work even more now. I’m training in the backyard. Sometimes Dad tries to help me and that doesn’t work out so well. You can go for a run and workout. It kinda works cause you can work on the sports you want, improve yourself and see what you are capable of. It’s chance to see if you really want to push yourself. You can workout with some teammates on social media.”
The sky’s the limit for Catherine Apker and everyone can watch her to continue her growth on the soccer field for three more years right in Homer.