'It's all about the team,' says Ramstein's Hirzel

By RUSTY BRYAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 4, 2006

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — Unlike many of DODDS’ top athletes, All-Europe midfielder Melissa Hirzel of Ramstein is a one-sport star.

“I’m only good at one sport,” she said with a laugh before a Tuesday evening practice with the rest of the defending European Division I soccer champion Lady Royals.

But she also made it clear that she has has no desire to be a one-woman show.

“It’s all about the team,” said Hirzel, who has scored four goals from her left inside position in Ramstein’s five games this season. “I like it when the whole team’s successful.”

Under that criterion, there’s not much for Hirzel, 18, not to like this season. Her team is 4-0-1 overall and has yet to be scored upon. The Lady Royals are 3-0-1 in Division I, with just a scoreless tie against D-I contender Kaiserslautern standing between them and league-leading Heidelberg (5-0, 4-0).

After hosting the International School of Brussels Raiders (3-2) on Saturday, Ramstein closes its regular season at Heidelberg on May 13.

“I’m not even really thinking about that game,” Hirzel said. “We just play one game at a time. We never think, ‘If we lose…, we have to do this or that.’”

In Ramstein’s case, the more likely anticipation is “when we win,” but that is not foremost in Hirzel’s mind either.

“It’s not about winning,” she said. “It’s about playing well. I’d rather lose and have the whole team play well.”

This season, playing well is what Hirzel has been all about.

“She’s one of the strongest midfielders I’ve ever seen,” said Ramstein coach Ricardo Buitrago, who is in his second year of guiding the Lady Royals. “Her passing is phenomenal, and her first touch is incredible.”

He has seen her play and develop over several years. He began coaching Hirzel when she was an eighth-grader on his lunchtime team at Ramstein Middle School. Buitrago said the co-ed middle schoolers ended up beating the high school boys JV team he was coaching at the time.

“She’s no ball hog,” Buitrago “She works hard and is unselfish. Her teammates adore her.”

Although in Buitrago’s opinion Hirzel has the tools to be a successful college player, it appears she will be ending her career when she graduates next month.

“I’m going to stay here and take classes at the University of Maryland,” Hirzel said. “It is sad to think of it ending. If I could help coach a team next year, that would be wonderful.”

However, the conclusion of her high school playing days just heightens the stakes for her during the last three weeks of her senior season.

“I like it when it’s really competitive,” she said. “I like having four teams really close.

“I remember when I was a sophomore and we were playing K-town in the semis, it was really hard. But it was fun, too, because you’re so close to winning and at the same time so close to losing.”

Ramstein midfielder Melissa Hirzel controls a pass Tuesday at practice at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Hirzel has scored four goals from her left inside position in five games this season for Ramstein (4-0-1).

from around the web