Nine Paladins Played Club Soccer At CESA

Andrew Burr

The lifeblood of a good Major League Baseball franchise – unless it’s the New York Yankees – is a productive farm system where talent is groomed for the future. Teams spend millions of dollars annually in player development.

Furman women’s soccer coach Andrew Burr has come across a lucrative feeder system that doesn’t cost him a dime other than some gas money. It’s the Carolina Elite Soccer Academy (CESA), a top-flight, Greenville-based club program in its ninth year of developing players.

Nine of 23 players on the Furman roster played on CESA teams. Foremost among them so far during the Paladins’ 7-1 start has been freshman forward Stephanie DeVita, a Hillcrest High graduate who has scored the winning goal in five consecutive matches.

“(CESA is) a great recruiting tool for us,” Burr said recently. “The relationship I have with the guys out at CESA is very positive. We all played against each other. We’ve know each other for a long time.”

When Burr was playing for Furman, Pearse Tormey and Andrew Hyslop, the two CESA Directors, were playing at Clemson and USC Upstate, respectively.

“It’s a very natural fit for us to try to recruit as many South Carolina kids as possible,” said Burr. “If you’re one of the top players in the state of South Carolina, you’re probably going to play for CESA.

“We have a lot of CESA players on our rosters, but they’re not all from Greenville. We have CESA players from Aiken, Camden and Augusta. It’s been a really good partnership.”

Burr credits CESA and similar club programs for “really creating quality soccer players.”

“I grew up in Atlanta,” he said. “When I was playing club soccer in the 1980s, the teams in South Carolina were below-average. And that has changed significantly.

“South Carolina is creating some of the better players in the Southeast. S.C. is creating some players who are playing at a very high level, whether it’s at Furman, the ACC or SEC.

Burr credits not only the training that players are getting at the club level, but also the amount of time spent off the field preparing players for the academic and athletic challenges of playing at the collegiate level.

While DeVita was a three-time S.C. Gatorade/ESPN Rise state Player of the Year, she wasn’t highly recruited by programs outside the state. Growing up in Simpsonville, she was exposed to Furman soccer from an early age. Knowing other CESA players already in the program, also helped her decide to sign with the Paladins.

Catie Moore, a redshirt sophomore defender from Eastside High was one of those players. She also played for CESA and likes the fact a talent pipeline is developing between the club and Furman.

“It’s awesome,” Moore said earlier this month. “I feel like it makes me kind of a role model for people who come from the club, younger girls who come from the club. It’s important that I set myself to a higher standard. I make sure that I kind of watch what I do behaviorally. Playing-wise, obviously, just having people there who I knew is awesome.”

It didn’t take long for DeVita to adjust to the college game. She earned a starting spot at forward, and has scored seven goals in the first seven games.

“Stephanie is a unique player and one I knew would have an impact as she went to the college game,” Burr said. “But you never know what type of impact, and there’s that acclimation period where everybody is a little bit quicker, a little bit faster, a little bit stronger. It takes some players half a season. It takes some players a full season. It takes some people until their junior or senior year until they’ve really adapted and figured out what the college game is all about.

“Stephanie needed about two minutes and she was up and running. She’s got some natural leadership skills that make people want to follow. She really is kind of a leader by example. She stepped in immediately, and is having a great impact. ”

DeVita said her CESA experience had a major impact on her development. “We’ve had to play so much good competition,” she recalled, “and the coaches there are amazing. I pretty much owe all my soccer skills to the coaches I’ve had for eight years and to the club that gives us a lot of opportunities to play against the best girls in the country.”

Moore also praised the role CESA played in her career. “The coaching is great. It’s such a commitment. You really have to commit to your team if you want to get playing time in games. It’s the same here as far as having to work hard at practice to get playing time. I think it really prepares you well for a higher level of soccer, both mentally and physically.”

Having one year of the college experience behind her, Moore has a good perspective on what freshmen will experience in their freshman seasons.

“College athletics anywhere – but particularly at Furman – is about time management,” she said. “Being able to balance all that time with soccer and having a social life and being able to get your time in the library is really important. I think my time at CESA and Eastside High School definitely helped me figure that out.”

“The majority of clubs are doing a very good job of helping players go through the college selection process,” said Burr, ” trying to find which schools are the best fits for them. We certainly support high school soccer and we’ll go to watch high school games, but when we really need to find out all the aspects of the players we’re recruiting, the club environment is the best place to do it.”

For DeVita, Furman was the right fit. Burr believes the early exposure to Furman helped sell DeVita on the program.

“I started looking at schools early, so I pretty much knew from the start that Furman was where I was going to be,” DeVita said. “I was mostly talking to USC and Furman, but I just felt like USC wasn’t my place and Furman was.”

Burr likes where he team is at this point in the season. They got off to a good start during preseason.

“When we came in for preseason, between fitness sessions, two-a-days (and) team-building activities … our group of 23 gelled very quickly,” Burr said. “And it’s one of our priorities to make sure that each player knows that it requires 23 people for us to be successful, for us to be Southern Conference champs. We need 23 people on the exact same page.

“The team chemistry is extremely high. These players and the coaching staff, we really care about each other. There’s a bond created with these 23 that make it easier for freshmen, in particular, to feel like they’re a part of something special from Day One.”

DeVita got off to a fast start in her first regular-season match against North Florida. She scored barely 60 minutes into it on her first shot on goal. An overtime goal against Clemson lifted the Paladins to their fourth win over the Tigers in the last five years.

“It was just amazing,” DeVita said of the experience against Clemson. “I don’t even know (what went through my mind as the ball went in the net). It’s probably one of my best soccer experiences so far, just to help the team win. It was a big deal. We beat Clemson. We beat a team in the ACC.”

“It’s great to beat any team any day, but definitely beating a bigger school is really fun,” Moore said. “Especially someone who’s local and I’ve always seen as a big-name school.

“I love playing in my home state,” DeVita said. “All my family and friends can come watch. I feel comfortable here and I just like it.

“I was hoping to have a great start and impact, but it’s just been unreal,” DeVita said of her early on-field success as a varsity collegiate player. “I’ve been so excited. It’s been a dream-come-true so far.
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