JWS Player of the Year: Amelia White, a game-changing soccer talent

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Amelia White finished her senior season with 25 goals and 15 assists, leading Homestead to its first-ever state championship. (Photo provided)

There’s a moment from last fall that sticks with coach Rick Link the most when he reflects on Amelia White’s career at Homestead High School.

The Spartans were in the regional semifinals of Indiana’s Class 3A bracket, and their opponent was two-time defending state champion Noblesville, a program that hadn’t lost a match in over two and a half years. On top of that, Noblesville hadn’t allowed more than three goals in a game in over four years.

But with White on the pitch, this year was different.

In front of a jubilant home crowd, Homestead faced a 1-0 deficit before one touch to White changed everything.

“We touched the ball to her to kick it back off, and she dribbled straight to the goal past five of their defenders and scored within six seconds to tie it back up,” Link says. “She had a hat trick, plus she was tripped in the box. Another girl took the PK, and we won 4-2.

“I saw their coach later at the state voting that we do together down in Indianapolis. He said people were asking, ‘Well, why didn’t you do something different to stop her?’ And he goes, ‘There was nothing you could do to stop her.’ She’s flying by his best defenders, and that was the most dominating performance I’ve ever seen on the offensive end.”

White hasn’t slowed down since then.

Homestead went on to finish the season 22-0 and claim its first state championship in program history. White was named Miss Indiana by the Indiana Soccer Coaches Association and the Gatorade Indiana Girls Soccer Player of the Year, and now she can add one more accolade to the list — Just Women’s Sports High School Soccer Player of the Year.

After racking up 25 goals and 15 assists in her senior season, she’s headed to the Division I ranks to compete for Penn State.

While the future is certainly bright for White, her beginnings warrant their own story. It all began when she and her twin sister discovered their passion for soccer a little more than a decade ago.

Amelia White, left, competes in a match for Fort Wayne United FC. (Photo provided)

Growing up in Fort Wayne, Amelia and Sophia both began playing soccer when they were 6 years old. Inspired by their older brother, they discovered their own love of the game and played on a recreational team, but it didn’t last very long.

“I would just score goals,” Amelia says. “Me and my sister would only pass to each other, so they actually kicked us off the rec team because we wouldn’t pass to anyone and we’d just score goals.”

Shortly thereafter, they joined Fort Wayne United FC and the journey started to get more serious. Amelia was about 13 years old when she began training with the boys, and by the time she was 14, she was playing with FWUFC’s oldest age group for girls.

It was around that time that Link watched Amelia play for the first time.

“I was just amazed,” Link says. “The ball sticks to her foot. Her speed with the ball, I mean, I’ve never seen anyone that fast with the ball at her foot. She’s racing past people, dribbling past people, and they don’t have the ball. And they can’t keep up.

“You could watch her play for five minutes and realize she’s a once-in-a-lifetime type of player.”

The experience of getting to share the pitch with her sister throughout the years is one that Amelia cherishes, but she admits it wasn’t easy to navigate the comparisons that always seemed to surface between the two. While Amelia was busy attending national team camps, Sophia was settling into her role as a stalwart defender and wasn’t drawing the same level of hype. It was hard on Sophia, but as time passed, they learned to handle it better.

“I think now it’s really good that we recognize we’re on different sides of the field,” Amelia says. “We both have different jobs. She’s really good at what she does, and I’m good at what I do. We’re pretty competitive still, but I think that helps us a lot.”

As freshmen, they made an immediate impact on Link’s squad. The Spartans advanced to the state championship game but lost to perennial powerhouse Carmel in a 2-1 decision.

Sophia went on to start at center back all four years at Homestead, but Amelia’s eyes were fixed on competing internationally. In 2019, Amelia was invited to play for the U.S. U-17 women’s national team at a friendly tournament in Sweden, and the obligation forced her to miss a large chunk of her sophomore season at Homestead.

Then, a year later, Amelia was upfront with her coach early on that she had planned to compete for the U.S. at the U-17 World Cup and would have to miss the season due to training in the fall. The World Cup was eventually canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was pretty much the first time that I’d ever been away from home for a long amount of time at a pretty young age, but it was a really good experience and a really big learning experience, just going to other countries and learning about other cultures,” she says. “It was awesome. Trainings were super intense. It definitely helped me develop as a player, but it was mainly the stuff they would tell me and I took back home that really made a difference.”

From the moment it began, Amelia knew her senior season was going to be special. For one, it was an opportunity to get to take the field with her sister one more time. But beyond that, she had developed a unique bond with her entire team that made their cohesion as a unit that much stronger.

“Even though everyone was really close and best friends, we took the training pretty serious. I think that’s what made a difference. I love those girls,” Amelia says. “Once we did get to the tournament, we played at such a high level against older girls, so I think the seniors did a really good job of showing and leading how to deal with that.”

Link believes Amelia’s experience with the national team brought along an entirely new element to her game. She was much more focused on elevating the players around her, demonstrating a sense of maturity he’d yet to see from her.

“She set a lot of other girls up,” Link says. “She could’ve taken over every game we played. She took over at times if she needed to, but she really involved her teammates more her senior year and was just out there to have fun.”

Following the momentous win over Noblesville, Homestead went on to claim the region crown with a 2-0 victory over Harrison before Amelia was forced to miss the state semifinal match due to a training obligation with the national team. The Spartans escaped that game with a win over Saint Joseph, in which they tied 0-0 in regulation before advancing in penalty kicks.

A week later, Amelia was back on the pitch with her sister in the state final. She scored a goal and led the Spartans to a 2-1 win over Carmel, avenging their loss from three years prior and clinching the first state soccer title in school history.

“It didn’t even feel real,” Amelia says. “Coming off of hard games before, like the Noblesville game, we were already on a high, but we knew that was going to be a really tough game. Once the final whistle blew, it was just really surreal.”

Although she only played two full seasons at the high school level, Amelia finished her career at Homestead with 52 goals and 31 assists. She’s ranked as the No. 2 recruit in the Class of 2022 by Top Drawer Soccer, which earned her attention from a handful of Division I schools.

In November, Amelia and Sophia sat next to each other in front of family, friends, coaches and media as they each signed national letters of intent to continue their careers at the college level — Sophia with IUPUI and Amelia with Penn State.

Amelia chose the Nittany Lions over the likes of Georgetown, USC and Notre Dame, impressed by the relationship she’d built with head coach Erica Dambach.

“It’s very family-oriented, which I really liked to see when I was on my visit,” says Amelia, who currently plans to major in political science but is still undeclared. “The campus is also just gorgeous, and it was the only place where I really felt at home and secure. I could just envision myself being here, and I think that was the really big difference that separated Penn State from the other schools because I just didn’t really feel that when talking to other coaches or visiting campuses.

“Penn State is just such a big school. There’s so many degrees and opportunities to explore here, so I really enjoyed that, too.”

As she heads to the college level, Amelia is bound to run into competition unlike anything she’s seen before, and Link is fascinated by how her game will translate at the next level.

“She’s always been the best player on her team by far, even when she’s playing up. Obviously when she came in as a freshman in high school, she was playing against seniors, but she was used to that because she was always playing up in club level, too,” he says. “I think she’ll need to continue to work really hard because I think it’ll be the first time where there might be some girls who will be able to match her skills and speed, and that typically has not been the case.”

Amelia is already training with her teammates at Penn State and is enrolled in summer classes. She has goals of getting back in the mix with the national team and wants to make an impact right away at Penn State, but she understands her role while learning behind players like Ally Schlegel, who led the Nittany Lions with 10 goals last season.

Amelia credits her coaches at FWUFC as some of her greatest mentors over the years — people like Bobby Poursanidis and Claire Ward.

For Amelia, it always seems to come back to Fort Wayne, a town that has produced soccer stars like Sarah Killion, DaMarcus Beasley and Akil Amen-Diop Watts.

Amelia wants to be the next name on that list, and if her senior season at Homestead is any indication, she’s well on her way.

“It was just one of those years where things came together, and we didn’t have any serious injuries,” Link says. “We won in PKs twice in the tournament, so there’s obviously luck involved there.

“It doesn’t hurt to have players like Amelia and Sophia as well.”

Trent Singer is the High School Editor at Just Women’s Sports. Follow him on Twitter @trentsinger.