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Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Sports > General

20/20 on 2020 senior athletes: Tri-Valley's Samantha Houghtaling

Jun 18, 2020

By Richard Ross - reporter/photographer

Samantha Houghtaling
GRAHAMSVILLE -- To play with unrelenting passion and a love of the game; to marshal her will, speed and heart to stop the other team from scoring. That is the mindset of Tri-Valley senior soccer defender Samantha Houghtaling as she takes to her sweeper position on the pitch, the place where she says she is “in touch with her inner life.”
How focused is she there? “The world around me disappears and it's just me and that person I'm intent on getting the ball away from,” avers the young woman whose vocabulary doesn't encompass the word, quit. Houghtaling has played injured, barely able to walk, fallen down motionless on the field and gotten up to play again because she never relents.
In truth, she is the embodiment of precepts declared by Olympic champion defender Kelley O'Hara who declared, “I am a defender. The last person you need to get through? That's me.
The person who makes you offside? That's me. I am the last chance to stop your goal and I don't go down without a fight. All my dedication and hard work has prepared me for this moment. My goal is stopping yours.”
Houghtaling's mom Holly played soccer and she transmitted her love of the game to her daughter who began her soccer sojourn at six years of age. Holly had played for Coach Mary Feusner and the two women would be both instrumental and influential in her coming of age on the soccer field.
Two years of modified soccer with coaches Scott Mickelson and Jason Closs honed her edges prior to entering the varsity ranks as a freshman. “I've always played defense,” says Houghtaling proudly. Her spot in the defensive backfield moved from outside back to stopper before arriving at the sweeper position which she loves.
“When I run after a player I chase with all I've got flying past everyone,” she asserts. “Every goal that is scored I take personally.” A Sullivan County Democrat All-Star for the past three years and a team-voted MVP this past fall, Houghtaling models the fire and fury coaches dream of finding in their players. Even after injuring her hamstring in practice and hobbling through school, she took to the field against Sullivan West even though everyone was telling her to sit it out.
Then, after falling and seemingly unable to move, she went back in. That's who she is. Basketball is probably her least favorite sport of the three she plays, but she plays it with intense fervor. Softball was once her favorite but has since slipped in the triage. She began playing basketball in third grade, was on modified in seventh, JV in ninth and tenth and varsity the past two years.
Making sectionals in her debut varsity year was immense. It was the first Bears team she had been on to make it to the big Dance, a run inspired by senior captain Morgan McHugh who had told her teammates at the outset of the season, “this is the year we are going to make it.”
McHugh hurt her wrist and never got to play in the sectional game but her spirit and encouragement was felt by Houghtaling and the other girls. Houghtaling's robustly supportive family rallied their support for all of her sports endeavors. Her parents Todd and Holly were ever-present along the fence in soccer, in the stands at basketball games along with her grandfather Carl and her late grandmother Jane. The same was true for softball games.
Her younger brother Thomas would come too, when he wasn't running cross-country or track. She started softball in second grade and was a catcher for two years in little league before moving to the hot corner of third base. Coaches Howard Swett and Amy Winters then put her back behind the plate and she's been there ever since.
“I never had a passion for the game until I became a catcher,” says Houghtaling who relishes a commanding role in all three sports. “Like soccer, I'm the last defender,” says Houghtaling sagely, referencing her need to block wild pitches in addition to calling pitches, framing her mitt for a perfect target and being able to throw runners out.
Kneeling behind the plate took its toll on her knee joints but despite the pain she soon incurred in her shoulder from throwing, she persisted though her arm shook constantly day and night. Her greatest influence was former T-V hurler Kacie Allison. “She helped me immensely both with the skills of the game and with my mindset.”
Houghtaling had travel team experience with Frozen Ropes and had aspired to play in college.
But things change and that fire died down, not in the games mind you, but in terms of long-range plans. She still aspires to play club soccer when she goes to SUNY Oneonta to study early childhood special education with an emphasis on math.
“I love kids,” she said. “I volunteer in the elementary school and have volunteered at Frost Valley's camp helping special ed children. I can see what's special in them. They have so much to offer the world. I want to touch lives in a way that will have a lasting impact.”
Houghtaling was looking forward to playing softball this spring. “We had a really good team and we believed we could make sectionals,” she says. She was particularly eyeing rematches with Eldred and Sullivan West. With the constant positive input from her parents, Allison, Feusner and her brother, Houghtaling has developed not only into an outstanding player, but more importantly into a remarkable person.
“Sports have helped remake me as a person,” she asserts. “It's given me motivation, perseverance and helped me appreciate the meaning of the concept of team. We're so close. We've built a family. It's so amazing to play these sports with the same girls over the years.”
Houghtaling enjoys a symbiotic relationship with her teammates: She teaches and learns. A staunch defender on the fields and courts, Houghtaling will now defend young people in need from the often-unfair treatment rendered to them because of their disabilities. Samantha Houghtaling has been a difference-maker in her athletic life and that's just a preamble to the immense difference she will make moving forward.

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