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SAM GANGWER, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Villa Park senior Lauren Polyakov scored 14 goals and had 10 assists in the regular season for Villa Park's girls soccer team this season.

Villa Park's Polyakov embraces role of team leader

CONTRIBUTING WRITER

High school is when kids come of age.

From the first class of freshman year to graduation day, a maturation process occurs, and one’s activities, choices and attitude play significant roles in the journey.

For Villa Park senior Lauren Polyakov, many of those moments happened during her soccer career. A letter winner since her freshman year, Polyakov has transitioned from being the program’s baby to being its captain the past two years.

She played soccer, basketball, and softball entering high school, but maintained an innocence when, as a freshman, she made Villa Park’s varsity soccer team. The Spartans won a Century League title that year, and while she was thrilled to see her teammates’ goals fulfilled, her reaction to the team’s success spoke to her youth.

“I was like, ‘Oh, is this what it’s like every year?’ ” Polyakov said.

Those were the lessons to be learned.

Over the next two years, Polyakov experienced highs and lows. Villa Park advanced to the CIF-SS Division 1 quarterfinals her sophomore year, then went winless in league last season.

After a junior campaign that tested her resolve and ability to lead, Polyakov learned that hard work could be rewarded.

“(Last season) really pushed us mentally to stay tough,” she said. “No matter what the outcome was, if we gave it our all, that was enough. We always tried to put a game behind us and focus on the next one.”

A major factor in Polyakov’s successful captaincy has been her positive attitude – a trait that earned her a nickname Spartans coach Brent Whitfield thinks not even she knows about.

“I call her ‘Smiley,’ ” he said. “She is always smiling, no matter what.” Whitfield later added that during last year’s trying season, Polyakov remained the example for others to follow.

“She was loud, and a great leader,” he continued. “We didn’t have the best of seasons, and she still stayed positive with everything. She kept the other players around her motivated. She led by example, and I think when you have a captain that leads by example, others will follow.”

Polyakov has played a combination of forward and center midfielder the past three years.

This season, she scored 14 goals in the regular season with 10 assists. Villa Park came within a win of capturing the Crestview League championship and earned a home playoff game. The Spartans host Los Alamitos on Thursday.

In her final year, Polyakov has completed the transition from being a shy freshman to being the senior others try to imitate. As one of only three upperclassmen on the team, Polyakov has found it critical to remember and impart the lessons she learned from her predecessors.

She recently recalled the reverence she had for the seniors on her first team. She appreciated their acceptance of a newcomer and expressed gratitude for how they showed her the ropes.

“Age doesn’t matter on the soccer field,” Polyakov said. “It’s all about your hard work, and what you put in is how the results are going to be. They taught me how to compete with them.”

Things have come full circle.

“I want to be able to have the freshmen look up to me and be like, ‘Wow, she’s been through four years of this. I want to be like her,’ ” Polyakov said. “I try to be an inspiration, not only on the soccer field, but in all walks of life.”

Contact the writer: preps@ocregister.com


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