Waterford High sophomore girls' soccer player Melina Spanos has arrived ahead of schedule.
As a 6-year-old in youth soccer, Spanos was identified as a future standout. WHS coach Rob Brule saw her talent and creativity early in Southeast Soccer Club Premier U12 games, and predicted she would one day become a scholastic all-star and college prospect.
The realization of her promise has come a year early in 2011. Faced with the adjustment of replacing two-time All-New England forward Julie Lavoie's scoring, Brule said the current Lancer squad would showcase "scoring by committee."
That usually means a bunch of single-digit goal scorers compensating for the lack of a dominant striker. But Spanos had other ideas, taking over as scoring committee chairperson.
Spanos scored 13 goals to go with five assists, leading Waterford to its 12th ECC Division title in 13 years and a berth in the conference tourney final thanks to her last-minute goal in a 1-0 win over Lyman in the semifinal last week.
For Spanos, who also scored the deciding goal in Waterford's 2-1 win over Lyman in the ECC Final last year, her late-game heroics and overall fine season earned her Patch Athlete of the Week honors.
"Melina is extremely talented and will undoubtedly, go down as one of the best players to come out of the Waterford girls soccer program," Brule said. "She was asked to play forward for us to help with goal production and did exactly what we asked her to do."
Soccer is the number one sport in the Spanos household. Her father Harry grew up in Stonington and was active his whole life in soccer after her grandfather, the late George Spanos, came to America from Greece in 1964. Her grandfather made his mark locally in the restaurant business, opening Crown Pizza in Waterford in the '70s and operating Angie's Pizza in Mystic for many years, until 1994. Son Harry also excelled in running popular eateries, currently owning Mystic Pizza II in North Stonington.
Melina loves Greek food, though she lists soccer, drawing and guitar as her favorite pasttimes.
"I don't make pizza," Melina said. "I'm old enough now to work at the restaurant. Right now I'm bussing tables and working my way up to a hostess. Hopefully, I'll keep scoring goals so I won't have to work for a while."
Spanos scored four goals as a freshman, playing more in the midfield than forward. This season, she unleashed her talent.
"I made a goal to push myself, working out more to get faster and expanding my role on the team," Spanos said. "I was a little nervous asserting myself fully as a freshman, but now that I'm counted on to score goals, it's an adrenaline rush."
Brule, whose recent Division I products include the state's all-time leading scorer in Katie Schoepfer, an All-American at Penn State, and Lavoie (Hartford), believes Spanos possesses ability and drive to earn All-State honors and college offers before she leaves Waterford.
"Her best quality as a player is that she is extremely creative and not afraid to take chances out on the field to beat a player one on one," Brule said. "It is during those "creative" moments on the field you see the real genius in her abilities. Her best quality as a person is that she is without question the nicest, funniest and personable young ladies I have ever coached. As she continues to improve on her consistency and reading the game, she will be the next Division 1 standout to come out of Waterford High School."
Spanos has called Brule, who has a 145-25-8 over the past 13 seasons, coach for many years.
"He's been my Southeast coach, my favorite on any level," Spanos said. "When he comments that I can be a Division I player, it definitely cheers me up. But I know I have to push, push, push to become that type of player. I can't take things for granted."
If Spanos and Waterford don't charge toward the program's first state title this year, then the Lancers project in great shape next season with several returning staters, including Spanos and All-ECC midfielder Emily Skinner back. Waterford started two freshmen, two sophs and four juniors this season.
Under Brule's watch, the Lancers also expected to contend.
"Age doesn't matter," Brule said. "When we meet during preseason with parents and players, we talk about our team goals, which always includes winning the league championship, winning the ECC tournament and playing to our seed in the state tournament. It is the expectation of the program."
And Spanos is happy to carry the torch as Waterford's next special player.