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Olivia Brannon, a senior on Troy Athens High School soccer team, missed much of last year with a broken foot. (Oakland Press Photo By: Vaughn Gurganian)

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GIRLS SOCCER PREVIEW: A healthy Olivia Brannon tops on the wish list for Troy Athens WITH VIDEO

Olivia Brannon, a senior on Troy Athens High School soccer team, missed much of last year with a broken foot. (Oakland Press Photo By: Vaughn Gurganian)

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TROY — If a genie were to come to life and grant Troy Athens girls soccer coach Tim Storch three wishes, it might be hard to say what would be first and foremost among Storch’s wish list.

Sure, an unbeaten season in what’ll be a loaded Oakland Activities Association Red Division or another state title would be possibilities, but so would another involving his most talented player, senior Olivia Brannon.

“I really hope that not just Athens, but Michigan high school soccer, sees her at 100 percent because she really is a gifted player,” Storch said.

How healthy Brannon, the top player in Oakland County and a Miss Soccer candidate, is going into this year is not only the million-dollar question around the Athens program, but other teams who have to play against such a force on the field.

Before a game in April last year, Brannon suffered a broken foot, which caused her to miss the rest of the high school season.

The injury was so severe that Brannon had to have pins and screws inserted through a surgical procedure, which caused her to miss her club season in the summer.

But the problems didn’t stop there.

In the fall and through the winter, Brannon tore some more ligaments and had some side effects from the hardware that was put into her foot, so in January she had further surgery to take the hardware out.

Brannon has rehabbed enough to where she was ready to participate on the first day of practice last week, but she was limited a bit in a series of scrimmages Athens had last Saturday.

“Physically it’s not too bad because you can get back in shape pretty quick,” Brannon said. “But mentally, that’s where I’m at right now. Just getting over that last hurdle because you’re scared to get hurt again.”

Storch can relate to the psychological challenges of a severe injury, because he went through a similar situation when he played college soccer.

“I had a situation in college where I was coming back from broken ribs,” Storch said. “Although I was physically healthy and the ribs were healed, I was afraid of contact for a while. Sometimes it takes that first time where you get whacked and then you say ‘Oh, I’m OK.’ You break that little barrier. She’ll have to hit that yet.”

Once Brannon does, local observers of high school soccer will fully realize why Brannon is one of the top youth players in not only the state, but the nation.

Signed with Virginia, Brannon is a member of the U.S. under-18 national team.

She played last summer for the U.S. in a World Cup qualifying tournament in Costa Rica and has seen her soccer travels take her to Argentina and Holland as well.

Brannon said the highlight of her experience in Costa Rica last year was getting to meet the Haitian national team and hear the stories they shared regarding the devastating earthquake in Haiti over a year ago.

“I made a lot of good friendships with them,” Brannon said. “In the summer, I went down and stayed with that team in Florida for a couple of weeks. That’s been a life lesson. It’s not just soccer.”

Athens has produced great high school players the way Duke and North Carolina have produced great college basketball players, but Brannon stands out in one regard.

Of all the great players and Miss Soccer winners Storch has had at Athens, Brannon is the only one to have been a member of the national team.

“She has freakish athleticism,” Storch said. “She’s unbelievably fast and quick and has great tenacity when healthy. Her strength on the ball and off the ball is great. Technically, she’s really improved over the years where she’s become a player that’s solid on the ball. She sees the field so well. She’s like that point guard in basketball where you’ve got to be ready to get the ball because even though you don’t see her looking at you, she sees you. That’s what makes her so special.”

While she’s enjoyed playing for the national team and club soccer in general, Brannon said she has a special place in her heart for high school soccer.

One reason is that instead of playing as a defender for the national team and in club, Storch has Brannon play midfield, which she said she likes.

“It’s a lot more playmaking,” Brannon said. “It definitely helps. It gets me the footwork I need. It also helps me a lot (playing) high school because I can teach the girls what I’ve learned. It works on my leadership. I love playing high school. It’s so fun.”

It would be even more fun if Brannon help Athens do something it hasn’t done since 2000, which is win a state title.

Athens should have plenty of firepower with Brannon and other future Division I college players on the roster such as forward Leah Schmitz, goalie Jenna O’Dell and defender Marisa Kozikowski.

“One of our mottos this year is to ‘Go big or go home,’” Brannon said. “This is all our last year and we all want to go out with a bang. We definitely have the talent to get there and as a team, this is the best chance we’ve had in a while.”

If Brannon is at or close to 100 percent, those state-title odds for Athens will only increase.

E-mail Keith Dunlap at

Last Updated: 3/23/2011 8:16:13 PM EST

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