By Dave Ruden
STAMFORD — When Sami Grasso talks about loving soccer so much that she plays it every day, she is being quite literal.
“My mom hates it, I will dribble around the house and kick into a wall,” the star striker for St. Joseph High School’s girls soccer team said with a chuckle.
All of which made made the torn tendon in her left ankle that sidelined her for all but the first two weeks of Grasso’s junior season even more painful.
“It was September 20,” Grasso said — she very likely remembers the time to the minute. “We were playing Stamford and I was dribbling down the field and one defender was coming from the left and one was coming from the right. They were sandwiching me. I tried to step over the ball and heard something pop.”
Grasso was sidelined, a spectator watching the Cadets earn a share of the FCIAC title.
“It was tough emotionally,” Grasso said. “I’ve played soccer since I was little. It was almost more an emotional injury than a physical one. Sitting on the bench is not a fun time when you know you should be out on the field.”
Grasso is back on the field and has quickly regained the form that helped her earn All-FCIAC and All-State honors both as a freshman and sophomore. The Cadets improved to 13-0-1 following Wednesday’s 4-1 win over Westhill, and Grasso is the leading scorer on a team replete with strong finishers.
“In the beginning some days were better than others,” Grasso said. “Some days the ankle acts up and some days it is great, and when that happens I can’t describe the feeling. I can’t stop smiling.”
Grasso is just 5-foot-2 — “and that’s being generous,” she said — but dangerous because of her unique skill set.
“Two things are her exceptional speed, obviously,” St. Joseph coach Jack Nogueira said. “And her game is predicated on her cuts and her change of direction. That’s why that kind of injury really hurt her.”
Nogueira realized he was getting a special player when Grasso arrived at St. Joseph.
“I knew she was part of the national pool, I had seen her play,” Nogueira said. “She was just a fantastic player, naturally gifted, athletic, but she also has a great soccer sense and great soccer skills.”
And a great work ethic.
“She’s incredible,” Nogueira said. “She’s the first one to practice and the last one to go. She’s the hardest worker. She’s just a solid kid.”
Grasso’s explosiveness makes her a dual threat, able to run down through balls, create space off the dribble, and is sure with her shots. On a team with other Division I talents, like fellow striker Jenna Bike, All-American defender Sabrina Toole, Cori Scales and Leah Lewis, Grasso still is a focal point of opposing coaches’ game plans.
“I didn’t score today, which was frustrating, but we had other players who did so that was good,” Grasso said after the Westhill game.
Grasso will play next season at William & Mary. But before departing St. Joseph, there is some unfinished business.
“I would like to go out and win at least one if not both championships,” Grasso said of league and state titles. “I feel as a team we almost deserve it because we work so hard.”