Ava Matteo’s most valuable position might not even be on the field.
The senior high school soccer player at Philadelphia Performing Arts: A String Theory Charter School can play just about anywhere once she takes the field. But her work in helping younger players learn the game has made her one of the biggest building blocks when it comes to the school’s soccer program.
“I like being a big team player and trying to get everyone together as a whole,” said Matteo, who lives in Packer Park. “We want everyone to get along no matter what happens off the field. I enjoy helping the girls that ask for help. I try to run practices on the weekends with Bella Spence, our other captain. We try to work with some of the other girls that want help.”
Matteo is giving younger players a chance to ease into the game, very differently than how she started playing at age 4.
“When I started, I played with both boys and girls,” Matteo said. “Playing with boys really gets you going. I played with them up until I was 13. And they were 15 so they were a lot bigger. My dad just threw me in there, but I have brothers. He said I’d be fine and I kept up. I was tiny but I tried my best.”
Matteo never shied away from the competition, just like she doesn’t shy away from trying to help her teammates along. The program is full of beginners and String Theory has still managed to win a couple of games this season. They were 2-3 after a 2-0 loss to Howard Horace Furness on Sept. 26.
“Ava is one of about four seniors but only one of two that have played before,” said String Theory girls soccer coach Mike Casey. “It makes a big difference when you have someone that’s able to relay her message in a way that the younger kids don’t feel like she’s yelling at them or attacking them. They know she’s looking out for them in the best way possible.”
Matteo also unselfishly switched positions. Last year she was mainly a defender, but Casey moved her up to the midfield to help control more of the play.
“Ava made the switch over to center mid from a defensive role,” Casey said. “Last year there were four seniors that kind of held it together and she manned out the defense. But overall, she’s been awesome. She really stepped into a role as a leader and she’s really taken the younger kids who are just learning how to play soccer under her wing. Not only during the games, but during practice, she’s always teaching them and giving them tips and relaying what she wants to them in a way that’s constructive and not seeming like she knows more than they know about the game.”
“Major is theater,” Matteo said. “But I like being a stagehand more now. I try to help out as much as I can whenever I’m not playing sports. But sports take up a lot of my time.”
Matteo is enjoying her senior year on the soccer field but she likes witnessing the growth of the team rather than eyeing the standings. She knew it was going to be tough to top last year’s 6-2 team with a rebuilding squad this fall.
“It’s definitely different compared to last year.,” Matteo said. “But I enjoyed seeing how much some of the girls grew and how fast they grew, too. A lot of the girls had no idea what they were doing when they started and now they are dynamite on the field. It’s so great seeing them thrive out there.”
And her teammates love watching Matteo thrive, no matter which position she plays. She’s tried them all except for goalie. So far, anyway.
“I wanted to (play goalie) and I asked Casey to play but he said no,” Matteo said with a laugh. “But I’m fine wherever they put me. If they put me in goal, then hey, I got it. I’ll try my best.”