Serendipity Stings

Bitter rivals. Barely neighborhoods. Best of friends. Teammates. Roommates.

That is the progression, ever so natural, for four freshman soccer players from the Dallas metroplex who played club soccer together at Sting Soccer before moving north to play at Oklahoma State.

Claire Gantzer from Plano, Kirsten Siragusa from Rowlett, Dani Greenlee from Rockwall and Julia Lenhardt from Frisco all live in different Dallas suburbs, attended different schools and starred at different club teams around the city until their junior year in high school. But as fate would have it, they all wound up together at Sting for their final years at the club level, and they now find themselves playing at the same university.

“We kinda feel like it was meant to be,” Siragusa said.

Gantzer and Lenhardt have known each other the longest of the group, with a friendship that dates back to elementary school. They were the kind of friends who made a commercial for a particular brand of pickle they really liked just because, or who composed a monologue about nothing in particular in their spare time.

“When Kirsten and I first met them, I didn’t know if we could be friends because they were all sunshine and rainbows,” Greenlee said. “They were just so innocent and super happy all the time.”

“Yeah, and you guys were mean,” Ganzter countered, clarifying that she meant only on the field. “You guys were the rain clouds.”

Greenlee and Siragusa, who room together at OSU, were the grittier duo, or the “rain clouds” as Gantzer put it. As a goalkeeper and defender, respectively, their position requires a firmer attitude, while Gantzer and Lenhardt, who play further up the field, have a bit more creative freedom in their roles. Greenlee and Siragusa’s friendship has even retroactively spanned a generation, as their dads have become best friends who carpool to most of their home games.

The relatively short distance between Dallas and Stillwater is one of the many perks that has made the Dallas area such a recruiting hotbed for OSU, and the Sting foursome represents the latest development for that trend.

“Been that way ever since I can remember,” OSU soccer coach Colin Carmichael said. “Soccer and youth soccer is very popular there. And it is only three hours away from Stillwater, so it is just a natural recruiting bed for us. Football, basketball get a lot of kids from the DFW. It makes total sense for us to recruit the Dallas area and it has brought us some really talented players.”

But even though they are all products of the youth soccer system in Dallas, it took a lot of moving and shaking for all four girls to play together at Sting SC. Lenhardt was at Sting for six years, but Greenlee was at Liverpool and Solar before moving to Sting, Siragusa was at FC Dallas’ academy for six years before switching to Sting and Gantzer was also at Solar prior to joining up with the rest of the group.

“We never would have thought we would end up at Sting,” Lenhardt said. “It wasn’t something we planned together or even thought about. But there were so many changes for all of us and the clubs with coaches and stuff, that we all wound up there.”

Carmichael said that the club soccer culture exists as its own little world, one ripe with drama and precious little stability.

“From age 10 onwards, they recruit the players,” Carmichael said. “There is a lot of movement. In a lot of ways I think the recruitment for club is more intense than the recruitment for college soccer.”
Rivalries don’t just develop between the clubs, coaches and players, but even the parents, too.
“It’s like dance moms,” Greenlee said.
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Similar to the way AAU has changed the way high school basketball players are recruited, soccer prospects are judged almost entirely by how they perform for their club teams.
“Club for sure (is our priority),” Carmichael said. “We really only watch high school games if there is a special kid in the local area or if one of our committed kids is in the championship or something. But the level at high school is so diluted that 95 percent of our recruitment is from club teams and games.”

Carmichael didn’t recruit the Sting foursome as a package deal, and they didn’t even announce or make their decision all once. They all arrived at the decision individually, though they admitted the idea of playing together began to influence them once Lenhardt, the first to commit, made her choice.

“It made the decision easier,” Gantzer said. “When you know you will be playing with someone you’ve gotten comfortable playing with and you know their strengths and their personality, it made OSU even more attractive for me.”

Carmichael said getting multiple recruits from one club sometimes happens, but that this group was the largest he had ever had from the same team.

“I think when you are recruiting and you have a talented team like Sting, you might recruit five or six of them, not knowing or expecting a group of them to pick you,” Carmichael said. “You think of the odds with other schools also recruiting them and hope to press for one or two, but in this case we were lucky enough to secure four.”

For the OSU coaches, having so many talented prospects at one club might tempt them to pitch the idea of a group migration to the same school, but the process is much more delicate and personalized than that.

“You recruit them individually,” Justin Elkington, OSU’s associate head soccer coach, said. “But if the players respect each other individually as a player and a person, and they realize they are looking at your school, then that is going to be a positive as you recruit the others. And if one commits, then the others start to think, ‘Well, I really like playing with her, she’s a great girl. I want to be apart of that.'”

Being on campus together helped all four players adjust to life away from home, a welcome side effect for four girls who made their own independent decisions to play at OSU.
“I think it just made everyone more comfortable,” Greenlee said. “Even our parents too. They never had to worry about us because they knew we had each other. And in a way you feel more free to branch out because you come home each night and someone you’ve known for a long time is there.”
The Sting quartet had varying degrees of success during their freshman seasons, mostly because injuries kept Siragusa and Greenlee out for large chunks of the season, and Gantzer tore her ACL in the warmup for the Cowgirls’ NCAA Tournament game against Colorado. When they are healthy, though, Carmichael said he expects them to play a major role for the Cowgirls during the next few years.
“They’ve all done well and they are all on different pathways,” Carmichael said. “I would think if they are healthy and continue to develop the way that we would expect, they will be critical contributors for us. They could be four very important players for us going forward.”

All in a place like Stillwater, where the rainbows and the rain clouds are free to share the sky.

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