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Mione adds skill with toughness

Bad hamstring? Cleat marks in her ankle? Doesn't matter to Osceola's Michelle Mione, whose grit and goal-scoring sparked the Warriors.

By RODNEY PAGE

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 12, 2000


For those who had never seen Michelle Mione play soccer, the Class 2A state tournament at Tampa's Pepin/Rood Stadium was the perfect setting.

Against Titusville Astronaut in the semifinal game, Mione lay in front of the opponent's goal in obvious pain. Her right hamstring, which had been bothering her all season, was stretched almost to its breaking point.

She limped off the field with help from her teammates and sat out the remaining 13 minutes of the first half.

Then, in the second half, still smarting from the hamstring, Mione had her right ankle stepped on by an opponent.

This time she had to be carried off the field. Certainly her night was over, and with Osceola leading 2-0 it was unclear whether she would play in the final the next night.

But keeping Mione on the bench is like trying to keep Homer Simpson from a doughnut.

She returned for the final few minutes when Astronaut scored a goal and teammate Erin Neikirk injured her hip.

"I still have cleat marks on my ankle," Mione said two weeks later. "That was a physical game. But I didn't want to be taken out. (Coach) Ernie (Whalen) didn't want me to come back in, but I was coming back in. I don't like sitting out."

Mione dominated to earn the Times Player of the Year award.

Last season Mione wasn't as fortunate.

In a game against Lakewood just before Christmas break, Mione was taken down from behind and tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee. The season was lost, but her spirit wasn't broken.

Mione was on the bench for the rest of the season, rooting her teammates on in what turned out to be a disappointing 11-10 season.

"That was one of the toughest things I've been through," Mione said.

She bounced back in a big way. Mione played in all but one of Osceola's 29 games, and she missed that one because of illness.

She scored a team-record 47 goals as a junior, shattering her mark of 31 set in her freshman year. She has 93 goals in three seasons.

"Michelle probably had the biggest impact on her team," Countryside assistant and Eckerd College women's coach Siggi Nagele said.

"Just like if you took Stephanie Freeman off our team, we wouldn't have been as good. I think you could say the same for Osceola."

That's not to say the Warriors didn't have a supporting cast. Neikirk, Jenny Ruetschi, Kat Gille, Jackie Civello and Kim Conaway were just a few of the players that contributed to Osceola's 23-4-2 state runner-up season.

But Mione was the glue. Most of this year's team was intact last year, and when Mione went down so too did Osceola's spirit.

"She's awesome," Ruetschi said.

Mione had two days to recover from her physical state tournament. She was also roughed up in the Warriors' 5-0 loss to Gulf Breeze in the final.

Then it was time to report for practice with her club team, the Clearwater Chargers.

"I've been playing soccer since I was little with my brother (Tony) and my dad coaching us," Mione said. "I love to play, so I don't mind playing year round."

In her three years on the high school fields, Mione has made an impression.

"We were hosting (the PCAC tournament) and Osceola was getting ready to play (St. Petersburg)," Seminole coach Steve Kuplicki said. "Michelle was near the bathroom looking for a trainer.

"She was telling me about how her knee hurt and this hurt and that hurt. I could see it in her eyes that she was a soccer player, a competitor. She played the whole game like nothing bothered her, but I knew she was hurting. That said a lot to me."

Michelle Mione bio

SCHOOL: Osceola

GRADE: Junior

POSITION: Midfielder

SCORING TOTALS: 47 goals in 1999-2000. 93 in three seasons.

CLUB TEAM: Clearwater Chargers

FAVORITE ATHLETES: Mia Hamm, Michelle Akers

FAVORITE MOVIE: A League of Their Own

FAVORITE FOOD: Tacos, Italian

FAVORITE BAND: Third Eye Blind

COLLEGE CHOICES: Wake Forest, Auburn, Clemson

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