June 18, 2020 – By NJP

Southern Regional has a rich tradition of winning volleyball. Whether boys are girls, the have consistently put out championship quality teams with an amazing feeder program and strong interest from top quality athletes. Over the past decade, Head Coach Eric Maxwell has driven his teams to success with discipline, smarts, and loading the schedule with as many games as possible to keep the team brilliantly sharp come playoff time. He also has of knack of choosing amazing leaders. Stephanie Soares was one of the chosen.

A four year varsity setter, Stephanie quarterbacks with excellence. She has the style and grace that makes her actions seem effortless, but also the grit and determination that sets her apart in the leadership category. So don’t let the big smile and fun-loving attitude fool you. She is a competitor and a perfect fit in the Southern mold.

As usual, Southern and Stephanie put up big numbers last season. Southern again won a Shore Championship posting an overall record of 32-4 and was undefeated in both divisional and conference play. Stephanie had a monster 642 assists and lead the team in service aces with 55. She also added 118 digs in an amazing junior campaign where she earned first team in her division, the shore conference, and in Group 4. She also broke the all time record for assists and aces as a junior. With so many weapons returning for the 2020 campaign, NJP expects Steph to have a monster senior year and with Southern in the pre-season Top 10, we see another opportunity for a potential state championship.

We found our time talking with Stephanie to be inspirational. She provides such a positive outlook on things even as we all deal with the high current level of adversity. Some extra time on the beach this summer due to the COVID shutdown could be just what the doctor ordered as well, giving Stephanie some time to heal all the bruises and get refocused on winning in the Fall. We will be rooting for her… on and off the court.

Here is our interview with Ms. Soares…

Hi Steph. Tell us a bit about yourself?

My name is Stephanie Soares, I attend Southern Regional High School in Manahawkin. I’ll be graduating next year in the class of 2021. I’m currently a 3 year varsity starter for our amazing program. I have the most loving and supporting family. My mom, dad, grandma, and my dog Marty currently live with me. While my sister (Anastasia), and brother (Joey), live in North Carolina. My sister is finishing her last year in doctorate school at Methodist University, and my brother is a police officer in Charlotte.

How long have you played volleyball and what inspired you to take up volleyball initially?

I’ve been playing volleyball for 7 years going on 8 next year. I started playing Rec because my sister recommended I tried it. So I joined the Stafford Rec program, and started on a team that one of the current players on Southern’s girls team had coached. Then I tried out for the team in middle school, and never looked back. My first middle school tryout was all new to me, because prior I had only played in Stafford rec for a year. The Maxwell’s (Charlie and Cathy) really inspired me to continue with volleyball throughout my career, and really showed me the love for the game which then made me stick with it until now.

Eric Maxwell and Stephanie celebrate 1,000 assists

What are your metrics/details? Height, vertical, position, club team, etc. What’s your favorite position to play?

I’m 5’6” and my vertical is 8’7”, I’m a setter for high school as well as East Coast Crush, my current club. My favorite position to play has got to be setter. Because you’re in EVERY play. You always touch the ball one way or another.

How are you and your family dealing with current world situation with COVID-19? Are you expecting a normal Fall high school season schedule?

My family and I we’re trying to still keep things slightly normal. My mom is a nurse so she was working long hours in Covid units. And with school being out, and volleyball being cancelled I had the most free time I’ve had in years. So I started to pick up new hobbies like baking, and cooking. I’m staying hopeful for a normal fall high school season, even if it has to be a little different, I will be happy as long as we get to play.

How will your high school team do in the upcoming season? Do you have a lot of returning players? What will be the key to success?

I expect us to be very successful this season. Our goals will stay the same as they always do. Winning our division is the first, then winning shore conference again, then our biggest goal, to win a state championship. We have lost two of the best role models I have had all through High School, Riley Vaughn and Gianna Schiattarella. Other than that we have the whole team returning. We need to continue to use our strong chemistry, work ethic, and skill level in order to achieve success this year.

Tell us about your teammates. Who do you expect will be this year’s standout and up and coming players?

Everyone in the program at Southern is truly a big family on and off the court. Rachael Pharo and Emma Gildea will be a big part of our offense this year. As well as Madison Gellis taking care of the backrow. Corinne Hughes, Sam Hanamen, Haliea Kruse, Summer Davis, and Bri Otto, who are all rising juniors will continue to be a huge part of this team!

What is like playing at Southern with its rich tradition of success?

Southern is well known for their success in all sports here, especially both girls and boys volleyball. Coach Maxwell continues to set the bar high year after year with high expectations and goals for each of the teams. Playing for Southern is a unique experience to say the least. We all know that going into each season there are high expectations, and we won’t be successful if we don’t continuously work hard, and strive to be the best student athlete each and every day.

Who is your support group?

Steph, Anastasia, and Joey

My support group consists of all the members in my family as well as my coaches and friends. My parents continue to support me on and off the court but,  my mom knows when to give me some space after a hard loss, and after that she shares  some positive thoughts. I can’t thank my mom enough for all the time she has spent taking me to and from practices, tournaments, camps, and tryouts, and rarely ever missing any of my games. Both my brother and sister have supported me my whole life and even though the both live in North Carolina now, their support doesn’t end. My brother will always be the first to watch games that are live or text my mom for the scores every minute. And both of them will make surprise appearances at my games.

Which schools are your biggest rivals?

In the shore our biggest rivals will have to be Donovan, and Brick Memorial, but in the state North Hunderton, and Williamstown have been our biggest rivals for the past 3 years. They all have good programs, and continue to put together a strong lineup year after year.

Which player last season was the toughest competitor that you faced and why?

The toughest player we faced through the season would have to be Summer Wroniuk, from Williamstown. She is their libero and picked up EVERYTHING. She always seemed to get every ball we sent over even when it was on the other side of the court. She’s one of the best liberos I’ve ever played against.

Tell us about your high school coach? Club Coach?

Southern’s amazing program wouldn’t be where it is today without Coach Maxwell. He has always pushed me all throughout high school, in the best way, making me a stronger, and smarter player. He’s by far one of the best coaches I’ve ever had the chance to play for. He is just so knowledgeable about the game itself , and shares his competitiveness with the team everyday. I’ve had the opportunity to play for Coach Maxwell for 3 years now, and with me going into my 4th I know I’m coming out of the program not only being a better player but, a better person as well. I’ve played for multiple club coaches and all of them have been extremely helpful to my success. I started at East Coast Crush when I was 12 and I was given an opportunity to play up on the 15’s team with Coach Romona. That year was one of the hardest years in club because I was not strong mentally, and I want to thank her for pushing me, and making me realize I can always do more.

Coach Cathy and Charlie Maxwell we’re both my club coaches last year, and I couldn’t have had a better season. I played for them In middle school and they then created a club for the girls in Southern. They’re love for the game always showed during every game and every practice. And they always encouraged us. We could’ve been down by 10 but for some reason all of us were extremely calm. They taught us even when times are hard and things aren’t going the way we want , we have to use each other to push through. We always ended up winning those games.

Charlie and Cathy Maxwell with Stephanie at Belmont Abbey College

Have you won any awards such as All County or All State or others?

Freshman year I received first team all division (A South) honors,  second team all shore, and all group 4. Sophomore year I reached 1,000 assists, first team all division (A South), was first team all shore, and first team Group 4, and Junior year I was first team all division (A South), first team all shore, first team Group 4, I reached 2,000 assists, broke the school record for assists, and service points.

What is your favorite inspirational video that you like to watch before games?

As a team we all watch the great John Wooden before games. We watched many inspirational videos throughout the year. Personally, before the first game every year to get my nerves out I watch funny videos. It gets my mind free of nerves, and gets me laughing!

What are your other hobbies?

In my down time, I love to bake, especially with my mom. We bake for our family and friends all throughout the year and even bring some treats to our Home invitational at the end of September. From a young age, I always loved to watch the food network or the other cooking competitions and my mom was always baking. I just ended up latching on to it.

Tell us about your school?

Everybody at Southern Regional wants the best for you. Teachers, coaches, athletic trainers, and especially Mr. Donohue. Mr. Donohue is the athletic director at Southern and he is the best of the best. He gets every team here the best competition, and the most games he possibly can. Whenever there’s an opening for another game or tournament he will never hesitate to put us in. Southern also has one of the best student bodies. The students here are like one big family, and all the athletes support each other by going to each others games. They never fail to bring noise and pack the stands!

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Courtesy of HUDL

Is there a teacher or coach who really helped you along the way?

Cathy Maxwell has helped me since middle school. Whenever I had a question about anything she was always right there with the answer. Freshman year, she was my gym teacher and I would always come in during my lunch period and she would help me with my college search. Even now for Junior year, she is always there, not just for me, but every player at Southern.

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