State - INACTIVE

Demery adjusts to big time

TURLOCK -- Twenty years from now, if Karenee Demery is burdened with the chore of organizing her high school class reunion, the least of her worries would be finding a hall large enough to handle the party.

Heck, one of those small round tables at Starbucks would be the perfect size, but only if all four graduates from the Harvest Christian School class of 2010 is able to make it.

A more involved task would be to reassemble the 2010 California State University, Stanislaus, women's soccer team, on which Demery has made a huge splash as a freshman.

She's scored a conference-leading nine goals in the Warriors' first eight games, half her team's output as Stanislaus is off to a 7-1 start and a No. 14 national ranking in Division II -- the school's loftiest perch.

"I think the ranking is well-deserved," Demery said. "We're an awesome team and I believe we're unbeatable if we play our game. The sky's the limit for this team."

When Demery talks about her Warrior teammates, the praises flow. But ask her about her own accomplishments through the first month of her college career, and she quickly diverts the focus of the conversation ... back to the team.

"My scoring is all about my teammates," Demery said. "I really didn't think about scoring like this. It's amazing, but with the great team around me it's been easy for me to do my job. They make it easy for me, and I have the easy job compared to what they have to do to get the ball to me. They do all the work."

The impact Demery has made in the program, while remarkable, is underscored by the journey she took to Stanislaus.

Harvest Christian, a tiny school in Merced, has 52 students in grades K-12, with 18 above the ninth-grade level.

Enrollment is far too small to offer athletics, so Demery's only athletic opportunities came through club sports.

"I would have loved to play high school sports, but I saw how high school teams can get in the way of club sports, when people had to choose teams or miss games," Demery said. "I was able to devote all my time to one very intense soccer team."

To people who have watched and followed high school sports for any amount of time, the concept of club sports holding more importance than playing for the old alma mater might seem foreign. But in sports such as boys and girls soccer, volleyball and softball, the best way to be seen by college scouts is to compete at the club level.

"I don't know that I've ever had a player on the team that didn't play at a high level of club soccer," said Stanislaus women's coach Gabriel Bolton. "Club soccer is an area where you can go to one tournament, sit at one field, and see 500 players in a day, one game after another, and all of them are high-caliber players. If you go to a high school game, there may only be one or two players out there who could possibly play for you."

Demery began playing recreational soccer at 8 with a core of players who grew into a competitive travel team under the Merced United banner.

"I didn't think about college until I was about a sophomore in high school," Demery said. "People were telling me I was good, but I was taught to be humble and soccer was just a hobby to me at that point. But about that time we started to go to major tournaments and I discovered that soccer was something I wanted to do past high school."

And it was at one of those college soccer club team showcases where Demery caught the eye of Bolton.

"There was a club tournament in Davis that I sent my assistant coach to see. Within three minutes I got a text that I had to get to the field to watch this player," Bolton said. "Within five minutes of watching Karenee that's all I needed to see."

Only one other college -- Sonoma State -- made an effort to land Demery, and she said her decision was made easy the first time she met her Stanislaus teammates-to-be.

"I didn't go out and look for teams," she said. "I went to a college showcase tournament and I saw someone with a Stanislaus shirt. I knew it was a school close to home and I wanted to stay close. When I met the team it was a done deal."

But could she make the social adjustment from a tiny school to a CSU campus?

Bolton, for one, was concerned.

"I was worried about how she would adjust to the social aspect and whether she'd be intimidated by joining a team of 30 people representing a school of 7,000 students," Bolton said. "But she immediately connected with everybody on and off the field, which is awesome when you consider that our team is bigger than her whole high school."

And as far as the learning curve was involved, it took all of 71 minutes for Demery to make her mark on the program. That was the time elapsed in the season opener against Fresno Pacific when she drilled a deflection of a save into the upper left corner for the only goal in a 1-0 victory.

"As a freshman, you come in not knowing whether your teammates are going to like you or whether you're going to be able to do good," Demery said. "I came in very nervous and my teammates have been so supportive. I didn't think I'd be getting this much support, this much help."

Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at bvanderbeek@modbee.com or 578-2300.

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