QUICKSBURG — LuLu Funkhouser was really young when she first competed on a soccer field. So young, in fact, that she doesn’t remember how old she actually was when she began the sport, which is saying something for someone who only just finished her freshman year at Stonewall Jackson High School barely a week ago.
What Funkhouser does remember, though, is that as soon as she was old enough to be eligible to play youth soccer for the Shenandoah County Parks and Recreation Department, she played.
“When I was younger my mom just always wanted me to be active and she pushed me to become the athlete that I am,” Funkhouser said recently. “She just enrolled me in soccer and it was love at first sight.”
Enthralled by the camaraderie required of the sport, Funkhouser’s passion for soccer grew. But her attitude toward the sport took another great leap, she recalls, when she tried out for a parks and recreation U10 all-star team.
“I remember barely making it,” Funkhouser said. “I thought, ‘I need to get better so I can make it more successful.'”
So Funkhouser joined a U12 travel team — Shenandoah Flash — coached by current Central High School girls soccer coach Kim Dellinger, and still plays travel with Shenandoah Fire, a team coached by Funkhouser’s father, Lawrence. When she’s not competing with her travel team, Funkhouser is practicing on her own, often firing shots at a smaller-than-average goal at her house to improve her shot accuracy.
All of that work and invaluable playing experience propelled Funkhouser to a freshman season at Stonewall Jackson worthy of the Northern Virginia Daily’s 2015 Girls Soccer Player of the Year honor.
Though she was one of the youngest players on a Generals roster that returned nearly every leading scorer from a season ago, Funkhouser immediately stepped in as Stonewall’s most effective goal producer this spring. She finished with 17 goals and 12 assists, leading the area in both categories.
“I’ve always been successful but 17 is a big number, especially for a freshman,” Funkhouser said of her goal-scoring prowess in her first varsity season with the Generals. “I just wasn’t expecting that high of a number but I was expecting to do well, and I’m very proud that I did.”
Funkhouser’s impact was felt immediately by the Generals. Although Stonewall struggled early, the freshman forward scored the team’s first four goals, including two in a 2-1 overtime win over Buffalo Gap on April 16, the Generals’ first win of the season. That game would be just the first of a handful of games in which Funkhouser scored two goals, and she ended the season having scored or assisted on over 50 percent of Stonewall Jackson’s 53 goals.
“My teammates, they passed to me, we worked well together,” Funkhouser said. “I just had to stay focused and after I did everything came together.”
However, that chemistry wasn’t always there for the Generals, Funkhouser said, and that contributed to a lot of Stonewall’s struggles early on as two groups of girls from vastly different age groups needed time to jell.
“There were a lot of freshmen and a lot of seniors and that doesn’t work well at the beginning until you mesh together,” Funkhouser said.
“We just didn’t work together — we hadn’t played together our whole lives. You’re taking a group of girls who had played together and putting a bunch of new players on.”
But when that chemistry did form on the field for Stonewall Jackson, Funkhouser and the rest of the Generals’ offensive attack thrived and propelled the team to victories in seven of its final 11 matches.
Funkhouser, who noted that her greatest on-field strength is her ability to mentally dissect a situation, said she also got a boost in her offensive game when she started to get a better grasp on first-year coach Hap Kwiatkowski’s emphasis on diagonal runs.
“Hap was always talking about diagonal runs and at first I didn’t understand and I didn’t get it and I was like, ‘Why are you telling me to do this?'” said Funkhouser, who was named a second team all-Shenandoah District selection following the season, which ended for Stonewall with a loss to Clarke County in the Conference 35 semifinals. “And then at the end I understood that it would help me with my passes with being more open and it opened me up so much.”
Funkhouser’s success during the spring high school soccer season served as a fitting end to what was a very successful freshman debut at Stonewall Jackson. Funkhouser also ran on the varsity cross country team in the fall — and nearly earned all-state recognition — and played some point guard for Stonewall Jackson’s varsity girls basketball team.
“They all have an influence on what I do and putting it all together, it makes me the player I am,” Funkhouser said.
Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org