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Ajanae Respass leads Valor Christian on field, inspires peers off it

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(Courtesy of Crissy Wright)

Ajanae Respass knows what she wants. Before a game, it’s a Jersey Mike’s sub: turkey with cheese and dijon mustard. During a game, she wants to score.

“My dad and I always talk, one goal per game,” Respass said.

On Tuesday night, the Valor Christian (Highlands Ranch, Colo.) forward recorded a hat trick, propelling the team to an 8-0 playoff win against Rangeview (Aurora) and earning her JWS Player of the Week honors.

The senior averages 1.2 goals per game and leads the league with 18 goals. With Respass leading the attack, the No. 8 Eagles enter Friday’s matchup against Regis Jesuit (Aurora, Colo.) with a 14-0 record.

This is only Respass’ second season with the team. Her club team, Real Colorado, was part of the now-defunct U.S. Soccer Developmental Academy, which prohibited its players from playing on high school teams. In April 2020, when the Academy folded, Real Colorado rejoined the Elite Clubs National League, allowing Respass to play for the Eagles.

Under the stadium lights, in front of a familiar crowd of classmates, teachers and family, Respass relishes the quintessential high school experience.

An authoritative force on the pitch, Respass leads by example.

“She’s always quick to encourage other players,” coach Brian Shultz said. “She’s also willing to hold us accountable when we’re not playing at the standard we want to play at.”

Off the field, the senior uses her voice to inspire her peers. As the vice president of diversity on Valor’s student leadership team, she advocates for minoritized communities. During the last week of Black History Month, she shared her perspective during a school-wide chapel service: “We’re all one in God,” Respass said.

Repass, who said she has always gone to predominantly white schools, explained what it’s like to feel different while underscoring the beauty in diversity.

That sentiment will be top of mind for her in the fall. After graduating high school, she’ll play for Oregon, having committed to the Ducks during her freshman year. Black women make up just 10 percent of NCAA Division I women’s soccer players. That figure has more than doubled in the last 20 years, and Respass hopes to inspire even more young girls like herself.

“Nothing should be stopping them. It could be biased as (a) predominantly white sport, but that’s where they need more of us,” Respass said.

Nika Anschuetz is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @nlanschuetz.