published Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

Five area girls going to NCAA Division I

  • photo
    Baylor's Marci Carter, no. 7, is seen in this file photo.
    Photo by Jenna Walker /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Three Baylor girls' soccer players recently made decisions to continue their careers at the NCAA Division I level, although only two of them will display their talents on the pitch this season.

Baylor midfielders Brianna Avitabile and Grace Stewart and center back Marci Carter -- all members of the FC Alliance club program out of Knoxville -- announced their plans, with Avitabile choosing to go to Austin Peay, Stewart to Middle Tennessee State and Carter to Pittsburgh.

Stewart tore an ACL six weeks ago.

In addition, Notre Dame's Blair Barker has committed to Jacksonville State, while Soddy-Daisy's Natalie Smith will be joining Avitabile at Austin Peay.

Carter, who was selected to the Tennessee Sports Writers Association 2010 all-state team, said her relationship with former MTSU assistant coach Michael Baker played an integral part in her decision to play for Pitt, a new member of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

"Since I was little, I always dreamed of playing at a high level like the ACC," she said. "The opportunity presented itself and I was eager to snatch it. I've been twice to the campus -- it's downtown, but not right on top of you."

Stewart was named to both the TSWA and the Tennessee High School Soccer Coaches' Association all-state teams last season. She chose MTSU over Belmont and Western Kentucky.

"I just really loved the big-college experience," she said. "At MTSU there's a wide variety of things going on, and with it being a bigger school, you have more opportunities to meet people."

She said while not being able to play this season, she still plans to be around with her teammates all season.

"It's tough and it stinks, but I'm going to be here to support them 100 percent," she said.

Avitabile played a reserve role on last season's state-championship team, which ended the season ranked No. 3 nationally, but showed her talents in the club season and parlayed that into an opportunity to play in Clarksville.

"I got to the campus and just felt I belonged there," she said. "It's big but has a small feel to it -- the teachers do a really good job of getting to know the students. I also loved the coaches."

Baylor graduated eight seniors from last year, six of whom signed at the Division I level. This year's players will have to create their own niche -- although they feel fully capable.

"Last year's senior class taught me that you have to work hard and push when you're close to the end," Avitabile said.

Said Carter: "The thing is, this year's team is young and it's like we're starting fresh. I want this team to work hard. We defended so well last season, and I want us to do that so we can get back [to the championship]."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6311. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.

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