Local soccer star earns national award

Local soccer star earns national award
Claire Constant is recognized for her athleticism, academic success and character as the Gatorade Virginia Girls Soccer Player of the Year. (Photo Credit: Missy Schrott)

By Missy Schrott | mschrott@alextimes.com 

Walking around the field at T.C. Williams High School, Claire Constant is at home – she waves to almost everyone she passes, casually points out the Titans’ starting quarterback and banters with members of the football team about their game against Hayfield this Friday.

As she poses for a picture against a goalpost plastered with the Titans logo, the football special teams coach, Rob Yarbrough, walks by.

“I heard you have a hell of a leg,” he says.

Constant seems unsure how to respond to the compliment. “I don’t know,” she says modestly, despite being named the Gatorade Virginia Girls Soccer Player of the Year and certainly standing on a hell-of-a-leg.

“You interested in being a punter?” Yarbrough asks. “Anybody who can take a football and kick it all the way down the field, I’ll sign ‘em up.”

Constant proceeded to practice with the football team and receive an offer for the position.

When asked whether she had ever kicked a football before, she replied with a small smile, “No.”

Constant seems to take this I-can-do-anything approach in almost everything she does. She can handle all positions on the soccer field, plays virtually all of every game and practices every day.

A combination of pure commitment, a competitive attitude and natural ability has driven Constant to be nationally recognized as a Gatorade Player of the Year – an award designed to recognize student athletes for their athleticism, academic success and exemplary character.

Constant has been playing soccer since her father put a ball in her crib when she was three months old. Originally from Haiti, the Rev. Joseph Constant has been sharing his love for soccer with his daughter her whole life, from playing backyard pickup games to coaching rec leagues to watching professional games together.

“Soccer is the national past time in Haiti. It’s the only sport that really I ever played,” he said, “so it’s definitely my DNA.”

While a lot of children play rec soccer, Constant’s parents knew early that their daughter’s talent was not ordinary. Joseph Constant remembers other parents approaching him at Claire’s very first rec soccer game and complimenting the five-year-old’s natural ability.

“There are certain things that, yes, you can coach; certain things, yes, you can learn; but at the end of the day, it really is all about heart. It has to be a heart thing before anything else,” he said.

The Constants have been navigating the world of organized sports ever since, knowing they would be doing their daughter a disservice if they didn’t help her reach her fullest potential.

When Constant’s parents and coach described her personality, the adjectives aligned: reserved, respectful, introverted, selfless.

When they defined her as an athlete, however, the pool of descriptors transformed: competitive, aggressive, loud, controlling.

“I’m loud, and I move a lot,” Constant said. It seemed jarring coming from the mouth of a soft-spoken girl sitting with her legs crossed on the bleachers of the T.C. Williams field.

Constant is currently a senior at T.C. Williams High School and a three-year member of the girls varsity soccer team. She is the first girls soccer player from T.C. Williams to win the Player of the Year award. She has also played for and captained the McLean ECNL club team for the past four years.

“She’s a superb athlete,” said Nadir Moumen, Constant’s longtime McLean coach. “She’s got everything – endurance, strength, speed, hard work – pretty much anything you can ask for, from an athletic standpoint.”

The word Constant uses to describe herself as an athlete is versatile; she’s happy to play any position – “Anywhere you need me, put me.” In general, though, she plays forward for her high school and defense for the McLean team.

“She’s good everywhere,” Moumen said. “If I had 10 Claires, she could play forward, but in my opinion, she’s just one of the best 10 defenders in the whole county.”

“I love being able to see the entire field and feel like I control the entire field,” Constant said. “Having a voice in the back is very important as a defender, and I love being able to use my voice to help other people, guide them.”

Despite being a standout and nationally recognized individual, Constant’s team-mindedness is evident. She praised her team’s support, whether they’re training together outside of practice, celebrating with shoulder bumps during a game or working hard to combat a loss.

“It’s not about her, it’s about the team,” Joseph Constant said. “The team’s success is her success. That’s something we’ve been noticing, really from day one, as she grows into becoming a stronger athlete.”

Constant has been playing with the same core group of girls since she started with McLean. As many of them approach their final year with the team, she said they were closer than ever.

Constant’s teammates were the ones to first tell her she won the Gatorade Player of the Year award. The nomination was far from her mind as Constant sat home sick from school one day in June.

“It usually goes to a senior, so I definitely didn’t expect to win it this year,” she said.

She started to get an influx of texts from teammates and classmates: “They just said your name on the loud speaker!” “You won Gatorade Player of the Year!” “Congrats!”

Constant won the award following the spring soccer season of her junior year, during which she scored 16 goals and had 17 assists as a forward.

“It just felt for me like an affirmation of all of the effort she’s put into it, and it’s not an easy process,” her mother, Sarah Constant, said.

In addition to athletics and academics, the award recognizes character. When she’s not training, Constant dedicates her time as a youth coach for her 12-year-old sister Christiana’s indoor futsal league, where she is able to pass on knowledge and advice to young athletes.

She also volunteers as a member of the leadership team at T.C. Williams and helps with her father’s nonprofit, the Haiti Micah Project, to help impoverished and uneducated children in Haiti.

As a Gatorade Player of the Year, Constant was given a $1,000 grant to donate to a youth sports organization. She chose DC Scores, a local organization she is personally connected to through fellow McLean ECNL athletes and a former trainer.

The award is not the first time Constant has been nationally recognized. Last week, she was invited for the fourth time to go to the U.S. Under-18 Women’s National Team training camp at the end of October. At a previous camp, Constant was named one of the top 11 and was able to go to New York City to meet her soccer idol, Marcelo Vieira.

As an athlete of such a high caliber, Constant started to hear from colleges in eighth grade. For years, she spent her weekends visiting schools and meeting recruiters. She fought through nerves after spotting college coaches on the sidelines at games and waiting for their emails the next day.

“She was recruited at a fairly young age,” Sarah Constant said. “When I think of where I was between sophomore and freshman year, I wouldn’t have had a clue.”

“It was always balancing academics and athletics,” Joseph Constant said. “We wanted to make sure that Claire selected a school that was not just really good athletics at the forefront, but making sure that athletics and academics were side by side.”

In 10th grade, Constant verbally committed to the University of Virginia.

“I fell in love with the school, I fell in love with the coach, I fell in love with the team, and I knew that’s where I was meant to be,” Constant said. “The team in general, they support each other on and off the field … I think they have the same mentality as we do in McLean, so I’m looking forward to being able to carry that on through college.”

She is thinking about majoring in sports marketing, but hopes to continue playing soccer as long as she can. Ideally, Constant said she wanted to play soccer professionally in France.

“I took French for multiple years,” she said. “I’ve never been to France, but I’ve seen pictures and movies … and they have great professional teams there.”

“In five years, we are looking forward to a young woman who has achieved so much in her young life so far and will continue to grow,” Joseph Constant said. “We are confident that opportunities will continue to present themselves, and Claire will receive them with the same grace that she has been receiving every opportunity that has been presented.”

– mschrott@alextimes.com