Most great athletes find at least one or two role models to mold themselves after—a baseball player might pick his favorite Red Sox pitcher, and a basketball star could choose her favorite UConn alumnus. But for Woodland junior soccer standout Raven Palmerie, inspiration comes from a much closer source—her older sister, Christina, a former three-time all-stater from the early years of the Hawks’ program.
“She’s been my inspiration throughout my soccer career,” the younger Palmerie said. “She’s definitely been my idol. She’s like a second coach to me. I’ll ask her what I can do better a lot of the time. In my biased opinion, she’s the best player ever at Woodland.”
That claim is not too far off; Christina is tied with Gina Della Rose with three all-state honors for most in program history. A goal of Raven’s was to duplicate that feat, but just because that’s out of reach doesn’t mean she can’t do the next-best thing—earn those honors twice. But both she and head coach Joe Fortier know that won’t be easy.
“She’s definitely got some big shoes to fill with her sister,” Fortier said. “It’s a tough act to follow, but Raven puts a lot of pressure on herself and sets high expectations. She’s done everything possible to step up to the challenge.”
But those awards are secondary for Palmerie this year, who earned second team all-Naugatuck Valley League honors last season. In the year after all-state center-midfielder Cecelia Dias and all-NVL defender Chrissy Witham graduated, Palmerie will be taking leadership of the team to try to maintain the already-strong tradition of girls’ soccer at Woodland.
“She knows the history of the program with her sister and what the past great players have been like,” Fortier said. “She’s been working the girls this year to keep that reputation going. She put in a lot of work over the offseason and probably improved the most on the team, which is saying something because of how good she already was. And she’s been the most positive leader for us, showing a lot of the same characteristics as Cece.”
“We have to mesh a little more and start playing like varsity athletes because we’re a young team,” Palmerie said. “We’re working on developing some tactical things with such a young team.”
As if stepping into the leadership role isn’t enough to deal with, Palmerie might be making a monumental change to her game this year. The departure of Dias leaves the position of center-midfielder open, potentially luring Palmerie from her position of defender to fill the void.
“She’s our best defender, but we might try her at center-mid to keep her in the offense,” Fortier said. “Our offense is actually going to run around her this year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s our leading goal-scorer. She’s going to have to be vocal and tell people where to be on the field. Her toughest challenge is to make everyone around her better.”
The switch to center-mid, which will require a substantially higher level of conditioning than Palmerie is accustomed to as a defender, is a challenge Palmerie welcomes, but knows will come with a learning curve.
“I’ll have to have more faith in my defense and not worry about having to get back before everybody if I’m more of an offensive player,” she noted. “I have to focus more on not just dribbling to the goal, but getting girls open and staying open myself for passes. I’m used to just clearing the ball, so I’ll have to improve my dribbling and shot-making.”
Palmerie already has her goals (no pun intended) for this year spelled out. Of course, the typical goals—being top four in the NVL, qualifying for states, and being an all-NVL player—were among them, but the junior pointed out a few more for both the team and herself.
“As a team, we want our best game to be against Naugatuck because they’re our personal rivals. We don’t want to be taken lightly just because we’re young. For me, I want to be the area player of the week, and I really want to follow in the footsteps of my sister and make all-state as a junior, but I know I’m going to have to work really hard.”
Fortier doesn’t doubt her ability to match Christina.
“Those awards will come,” he said. “She’s definitely an all-state type of player in my eyes.”
Palmerie’s last goal was another team-oriented one—one which shows the type of leader she has already become.
“I’m trying to get the girls to make a name for themselves in Woodland soccer so everybody remembers what kind of players they are,” she said. “I don’t want them to be forgotten.”
And forgetting her won’t be happening soon.