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She played age-group soccer her entire life with no regard for her age.
Hannah Crofut didn't rise to the level of first team All-Western New York by acting her age. The 17-year old Williamsville North senior realized early the fastest path toward achieving her goals was to "play up."
As a member of the under-8 Dolphins she competed with under-10 year olds. When she was 13, she began training at Proformance in the Northtown Center in Amherst with girls and boys as old as 18. When she was 15 and 16, she practiced twice a week with the junior Buffalo Flash, which featured mostly 18-year-olds getting ready to start their college careers.
"If I could play with the under-18 boys I would right now," she said. "When I was little I always wanted to play with older girls. That's what's going to make me better. I got to learn from it. It taught me how to be tough too, I can hold my own. Sometimes during the summer when the [North] boys team was having captain's practices, I would play with them. They're all bigger than me, stronger than me, faster than me."
Seeking out the best possible competition has paid off for Crofut. Besides All-Western New York honors last year, she was also fifth team all-New York State in Class AA and voted to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America High School Girls Region II team (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania). Teamwise, she has three sectionals titles (2008, 2010, 2011) in four varsity seasons.
Crofut was named MVP of Saturday's Lockport Tournament after leading the Spartans to the title, recording three goals and three assists in two games. In last week's ECIC opener against Clarence, she had a pair of goals and two assists in a 4-0 win.
Doug Kircher has been Crofut's coach in each of her four seasons. Her soccer skills aren't the only thing he's impressed with.
"She's captain this year, and I like her leadership ability," he said. "We're very young, Hannah's our only senior starter. I think she leads by example on and off the field. The kids want to play up to their best ability when they see how she's playing."
North looks to build on its 3-0 start. Junior forward Meredith Licata returns as last year's leading scorer. Two junior defenders are Erin Hopkins, who moves from outside to middle, and Katie Wolfe, a returning starter.
"Katie came out of nowhere," said Kircher. "She stepped in as a sophomore last year and was consistent the whole year. If any other teams have a really good forward, sometimes her responsibility is to pay particular attention to that other team's forward."
Three youngsters likely to keep North's winning tradition going are freshman Kristen Koral, a spot starter last year, sophomore Megan Barry and seventh-grader Maya Palmer, an outside defender.
They can only hope to follow in Crofut's path. Crofut already knows her college destination. Last February she gave a verbal commitment to Bryant University in Rhode Island, a Division I school that plays in the Northeast Conference. Helping pave the way was her 95 academic average and two-year membership in the National Honor Society.
She said everything fell into place when she visited the school, which has an enrollment of approximately 4,000.
"The girls are really nice on the team, it's good to know I'm going to have a good support system once I get there," she said.
Crofut did a lot of her own recruiting legwork. When she was playing in Showcase tournaments in Florida, Georgia and Las Vegas, she'd provide college recruitiers with sites and times of her games and encouraged them to attend. Bryant contacted her as soon as they legally could.
"Be super pro-active. If you're interested in a school email them and tell them who you are what you like about the school," she said. "The biggest thing is a start early. My Mom and I talked to so many people. We started my freshman year contacting coaches and people thought we were crazy, but it's gotten me where I am now."

email: mmonnin@buffnews.com