For the first time in her life, Randi Stafford felt helpless on the soccer field. The Woodside High midfielder didn’t have the energy to play for long stretches, she wasn’t able to focus on the action, and she couldn’t kick, jump or sprint anywhere close to her full ability.
But after a trying sophomore season that included an eight-month bout with mononucleosis and a torn right quadriceps, a healthy Stafford is raring to go a year later. The junior, quite impressive as freshman starter for Woodside’s 19-1-3 juggernaut in the 2009-10 season, can’t wait to get her career back on track after enduring what she called a “terrible” year.
“It feels great because I’m playing the way I used to play,” said Stafford, whose team is three weeks into its preseason training and is nearing its Dec. 1 opener at Sequoia. “I’m so much happier now.”
As a freshman, Stafford earned the confidence of Woodside coach Jose Navarrete and her star-studded team with her sparkling play. In addition to being a speedy threat on the wing capable of dangerous crosses, Stafford became known for her superb placement of corner kicks – an integral part of the Wildcats’ run to their first Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division title and the Central Coast Section Division I final.
But then the high hopes Stafford and Navarrete had for her continued emergence as a sophomore quickly went by the wayside. She was diagnosed with mono during tryouts and immediately felt the effects of her constant fatigue.
Though Stafford only missed one day of school, her lack of attentiveness and lethargic behavior became staples of the next several months – in the classroom and on the field.
“My freshman year had been so great, I was hoping to contribute … (but) I just wasn’t playing my best at all,” said Stafford, who is intent on playing collegiate soccer. “I was struggling with school a lot because of my mono. I was falling asleep like every class.”
Then in early December, while playing in a club match for the De Anza Force in North Carolina, she ruptured her quad in freezing temperatures.
Stafford determinedly played through her illness and injury as best she could, though it was evident to all she wasn’t close to the same player.
“She had trouble keeping up,” Navarrete said. “She couldn’t play in anything but small spurts. It was very frustrating for her, and it was very frustrating for me as her coach.”
Added Stafford: “I was trying as hard as possible, but it wasn’t working.”
After fainting during a PAL Bay Division match against Burlingame in late January, Stafford was forced to the sidelines for three weeks. She returned for the end of the season, but knew she wouldn’t be at full strength at any point.
All the adversity Stafford weathered last year has made the fresh start in her junior year all the sweeter.
“It feels amazing to be able to run at a full sprint,” she said. And she has been very glad to rediscover her ability “to think about the game and be aware.”
Stafford noted she felt she needed “to prove myself again” in tryouts this month, and all indications are she is on track for a breakout season.
“Her energy is back,” Navarrete said. “Her snap is back. Her legs are back under her. It’s a completely different person with a completely different attitude.”
The Woodside coach was impressed enough with Stafford’s performance and dedication this fall that he named her one of the team’s three captains.
Stafford said she is relishing her leadership role on a team loaded with youthful talent.
“I just feel we’ve connected really quickly,” she said when asked for an early outlook on the team. “I can already see this year we’re going to do really well.”
As for her tumultuous sophomore campaign, Stafford said she’s thrilled and relieved it’s in the rear-view mirror.
“I’m enjoying my junior year so much more,” she said. “It’s completely night and day. I feel like a changed person, if that makes sense. I feel like the old me.”