By Jenelyn Russo     3/11/2015

Having been on the soccer field since the age of five, Cornelia Connelly High School junior Stephanie Gonzalez has learned more than a few life lessons from her years in the game.

“I’ve learned that we need to work hard for our goals,” says Gonzalez. “We need to work hard in life and not everything is fair…but together as a team, we can conquer so much more.”

Gonzalez gave soccer a try at the urging of her family, who are fans of the sport. After a positive experience her first time out, she’s played it ever since.

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She relishes her role on the field as “sweeper,” the last line of defense positioned in front of the goalkeeper. But beyond her defensive position on the field, the 16-year-old Gonzalez serves as her team’s captain and values the unity that has developed among her teammates.

“I feel as if my friendships with [my teammates] have grown because of soccer, so I’m very thankful,” says Gonzalez.

Connelly’s head soccer coach, Jovan Vega, says that for Gonzalez to serve as captain as a junior is a testament to the respect her teammates have for her and her ability to lead the team on and off the field.

“A person isn’t a captain based on her ability to manipulate the soccer ball. Although Stephanie does this very well, it is in her character that she shines even more,” says Vega. “She is humble, leads by example and is a person who has faith, compassion and integrity. Stephanie encompasses everything that it means to be a Connelly girl.”

In addition to representing Connelly on the soccer field, Gonzalez is also on the volleyball court each fall for the Koalas, where she finds that the mental aspect of both sports is a key component to staying focused and competitive.

As if her full athletic schedule isn’t enough, Gonzalez is a member of the National Honor Society, president of the Spanish Honor Society and works with Higher Ground, an organization that serves local at-risk youth. Whether it’s on the court, on the field, in the classroom or beyond, Gonzalez finds great purpose in being able to serve her campus and her community.

“Representing Connelly is such an honor,” says Gonzalez. “It has given me the strength and the leadership to continue to grow as a person and through my faith as well.”

How does Gonzalez keep it all balanced? The La Mirada resident feels that family plays a large part in how she stays the course, and she often looks to her family members for their guidance.

“My mother and my sister have served as very important role models to me,” says Gonzalez. “They’ve constantly guided me and inspired me throughout my life, and they always continue to guide me on t