Sports

South Kitsap woman eyes Olympic gold on soccer pitch

Stephanie Cox helped the University of Portland to an NCAA championship three years ago as a defender and now will compete for the U.S. women’s soccer team in the Beijing Olympics this summer. - Courtesy Photo
Stephanie Cox helped the University of Portland to an NCAA championship three years ago as a defender and now will compete for the U.S. women’s soccer team in the Beijing Olympics this summer.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

As the sky illuminated with colors and patterns last night, Stephanie Cox pursued her red, white and blue dreams in China.

Cox, the wife of 2003 South Kitsap High School graduate Brian Cox, already was overseas by July 4 to train with the United States women’s soccer team in the Beijing Olympics.

The team opens play Aug. 6 against Norway in Qinhuangdao, China.

“It gives me the chills,” she said last week, envisioning seeing the famed torch in person. “It’s going to be pretty heavy and very emotional. It’s kind of still just sinking in. I’m really excited and can’t believe it’s almost here.”

Cox, 22, is the youngest player on the U.S. team. But in early June, it appeared her dream of playing in Beijing was over when she wasn’t on the final list of players for coach Pia Sundhage’s team.

“Disappointed doesn’t describe it because a player of that caliber who was involved in the World Cup is not to be involved with the Olympics,” said University of Portland coach Garrett Smith, who Cox played for as Stephanie Lopez. “It might have been the first team she’s been cut from in her life.”

Smith feels a culmination of events, including academics, collegiate soccer and a December wedding in addition to “preparing for the highest level,” wore Cox down.

She used the 10-day break to contemplate her future, including the new Women’s Professional Soccer league that begins in April.

But on June 11, Cat Whitehill tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee while playing in the Peace Cup in North Korea.

Cox, who plays outside back, was given the call to replace Whitehill, a fellow defender.

Cox played well there and was added to Sundhage’s 18-player roster.

Cox, a four-time collegiate All-American who helped Portland to an NCAA championship in 2005, said the experience is a culmination of hard work.

She started playing soccer when she was 5 years old and began competing with the Olympic Development Program at 13. She later played on national and world championship teams.

Cox utilized her redshirt year as a sophomore in 2004 to play on the U.S. Under-19 National Team at the FIFA World Championships.

“You kind of have to climb the ladder,” said Cox, who compared the process to the levels of baseball’s minor-league system. “Through those tournaments, I got some great looks, experience and did well in college.”

Similar to her husband, who starred in basketball and baseball at South, Cox was a three-sport athlete at Elk Grove High School near Sacramento, Calif.

The couple met at Portland, where he pitched for the baseball team, and both recommend playing multiple sports in high school.

“I see so many young kids specializing now,” said Cox, who also played volleyball and basketball. “They have their trainers and they’re committing at such a young age to a specific sport. What I really appreciate about my childhood and growing up is playing multiple sports. That was huge for me because a lot of athletes get to college and are burnt out from playing 10 years of one sport.”

Cox broke into the starting lineup at last year’s World Cup in China and played in all but 45 minutes of the tournament.

She said this will be her sixth visit to the country. She can place more pins on the map for countries she’s visited — at least 15 — than many people can for states.

“Usually once a trip our coaches will try and get out for one day where we can see something culturally,” she said. “We were just in Korea and we got to go to the demilitarized zone on the North Korea-South Korea border. That was something special to see.”

Viewing global living conditions, such as poverty and overcrowding, have given her a greater appreciation for her life back home.

“It’s cool to travel so much, and also love where you live,” Cox said.

She will get both before the Olympics. Cox headed out last week for games in Sweden and Norway, and returns later this month for matches against Brazil in Denver and San Diego.

At home, Cox said she focuses on getting in shape for soccer with cross training and weight lifting. In addition to spending time with her husband at their Gig Harbor residence — he works as an operations assistant for Pacific Asset Management in Port Orchard and is set to coach the boys basketball C-team at South — she was a national spokesperson for National Foster Care Month for Casey Family Programs. Her parents took in foster children while she was growing up.

“It’s kind of a passion of mine that I want to get further invested into now that I’m done with school,” she said. “Family is very important to me.”

And given her youth, Cox hopes to make the Olympics a regular part of that family.

Smith has no doubt she’ll be successful no matter where the experience leads her.

“She’s world class,” he said. “Not only is Stephanie a great talent on the soccer field, she’s a great student as well. She does everything well in all aspects of her life.”

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