Sitting on a bookcase in West Potomac High Athletic Director Jeff Dietze's office is a framed autograph picture of one of the greatest athletes the Alexandria-based public school has ever known.
The picture is of Katie Beal — a 2001 West Potomac graduate and Wolverine soccer great — during game action when she was a member of the Florida State University women's team. Beal gave the keepsake to Dietze following her college graduation in 2005. On the picture, she wrote, "Thanks for all your support and guidance — Katie Beal."
The gift means a lot to Dietze not only because it came from a former collegiate All-American athlete from West Potomac. More importantly, Dietze treasures the item because it comes from a student-athlete who truly epitomizes what it means to be a team player.
Beal, as good as she was during her soccer playing days as a teenager and collegiate standout, was an even better team player — a coachable athlete who shied away from the spotlight at times to focus on what really mattered: the teammates around her and the common pursuit of winning as a unit.
"She's probably the premier athlete we've had here in many, many years," said Dietze. "She kept her teammates involved. She wasn't really interested in newspaper stuff and notoriety. She had her teammates and they really liked her. She's a really outgoing person."
From the time she first began competing in soccer as a youth player within the Lee-Mount Vernon Soccer Association, through her years playing within the Braddock Omni select program and at West Potomac, and finally as an ACC sensation for the Seminoles of Florida State, Beal has always been a fierce competitor once the whistle has blown.
"She's very competitive and never gave an inch to anybody on the field," says Dietze. "She gave everything she had. That was a real good attribute."
Beal has never shied away from hard work as a soccer player.
"I was consistent day-in and day-out," said Beal, of her work ethic in the sport. "It was important for me to give 100 percent in practice and in games."
BEAL'S SOCCER RESUME and accolades are overwhelming. She is a former member of the Olympic Development Program U-17 and U-16 national teams and was a high school Parade All-American in 2001. A perennial All-Northern Region and All-Patriot District selection during her four years at West Potomac, Beal also earned All-Met honors in both her junior and senior years. On three occasions Beal, the District Player of the Year in 2001, was named the West Potomac soccer team's Female Team Athlete of the Year. The former Wolverine team captain was also a member of the National Honor Society and a Winter Scholar Athlete in 2000 and 2001.
In college, Beal, who played at center back position [defense], was named First Team Freshman All-American by Soccer Buzz, and garnered Third Team All-American status as a junior. She was a senior team captain and Florida State's all-time leading scorer from a defensive position.
During West Potomac's season-ending Spring Sports Awards Banquet in 2001, Beal's stardom was firmly secured at the school when her jersey No. 14 was retired. Joanie Murphy, Beal's high school soccer coach, initiated the action in tribute to Beal's importance to the program and her national standing in the game as a prep school star.
"I went to [former West Potomac principal] Henry Johnson and asked him," recalled Murphy, of the steps taken to retire Beal's soccer number. "I wanted it to be a surprise to [Kate's mom] Chris and Jeff [Dietze] as well because it was well deserved."
The evening of the presentation, Beal received an emotional standing ovation from the gathering of Wolverine spring athletes, family members, and school officials.
Murphy, currently a guidance counselor at Robinson High School and the girls varsity soccer coach at South Lakes, said Beal has always had a genuine air of modesty regarding her athletic abilities.
"To walk down the street [and see her] you'd never know all she accomplished in the ACC or high school,'" said Murphy. "She's kind of humble and never really talks about [her athletic success]. If you didn't know that was Katie Beal [the soccer star], she wouldn't tell you. For a kid to be First Team All-Patriot District four years — that's a player. She's gifted."
BEAL, WHO GREW UP playing soccer within coach John Kenny's Braddock Omni program — from age nine up through her sophomore year in college — fell in love with the sport at a young age.
"I probably started getting serious [about soccer] around [age] seven or eight. It was just what I excelled at and had a passion for," she said. In her high school career, Beal competed on West Potomac squads which were at times overmatched in the powerful Patriot District. But Beal, whether the Wolverines were winning or losing, was a steadying presence for coach Murphy and those Wolverine squads. Beal consistently played at a high level regardless of what the scoreboard said. Naturally, rival district opponents would focus on stopping her — or at least trying to.
"In soccer, she was a marked person," said Dietze. "She took a lot of abuse from other teams. They were always slamming her and she gave it back. She never complained, at least not to me. She liked the game and played the game for the competition. She just had a lot of fun playing and played hard."
When Beal was playing soccer, it was impossible not to notice her overall grace, hard play and talent level.
"Wherever Katie played, that was the center of the game," said Murphy, who used the standout player at a variety of positions during her high school career. "Katie had the ability to play any position and play it well. She raised the play of other players. Other players looked to Katie, sometimes almost too much. 'We have Katie Beal — let's let her do it.' There was a lot of pressure for her to be on her `A' game."
One of the things Beal loved most about high school soccer was playing the sport with her friends.
"Definitely it was a great time for me to socialize with them," said Beal. "I learned to be a team player and leader [in high school] and to keep my level of play up. We definitely struggled in the district. It was a growing experience for me and allowed me to experience the losing aspect. We definitely weren't winning any championships, but we were competing with [district powers] like West Springfield, Lake Braddock, and Robinson."
WHILE BEAL WAS ONE OF the top high school soccer players to ever compete in the Northern Region, she also excelled in other sports. She was a three-year letter winner and perennial All-Region and All-District selection in field hockey. As a senior field hockey team captain in 2000, Beal earned Second Team All-State recognition and was named Team MVP. Beal, who was part of West Potomac's region championship field hockey team as a junior in the fall of 1999, was also a four-year letter winner in basketball. On the hardwood, in fact, she was a Second Team All-District selection and Team MVP as a senior.
"She made herself good in all sports," said Dietze.
One of her crowning moments as a high school athlete came in field hockey when, in the Wolverines' 1999 region title game versus Centreville at Oakton High School, she scored a late-game goal to lift the Wolverines, coached then by Carol Horton, to a 1-0 triumph.
That historical goal was described in the Nov. 11 edition of the Mount Vernon Gazette: "The game-winning goal came by Katie Beal with just 42 seconds left. ...Wildcats' goalie Christy Morgan had run out of the goalie area to kick an on-coming , rolling ball out of danger. Beal, meanwhile, was running towards Morgan in hopes of catching up to the ball before the goaltender got to it. Morgan, who had made numerous outstanding saves throughout the game, beat Beal to the ball, but her kick attempt missed and she slipped. Beal was there to pick up the loose ball with no one between her and the net. She shot the ball into the net and West Potomac had a 1-0 lead with just a little time remaining."
Later, the story read: "When Beal smacked in her game-winning shot from straight-on, she raised her arms in triumph, looking skyward, as the ball went into the net."
Beal, a junior forward that season, was quoted as saying, "I was saying to myself, `I better not miss this, or else.' The ball trickled through. The goalie came out and it got through her. I hit it in."
The region field hockey title was West Potomac's first since 1992.
Of the game-winning goal, coach Horton, who led the Wolverines to five region championships during her storied coaching career, was quoted as saying, "When the goalie went down and the ball was behind her, I just thought, `don't miss the ball, don't miss the ball.'"
Beal was not the kind to let a chance like that get away.
SOCCER, NATURALLY would be Beal's sport of choice in college. One of the primary reasons she accepted a soccer scholarship offer to play at Florida State was because she had played under Seminoles head coach Patrick Baker on the ODP National Teams. Baker was an assistant coach with those squads.
"I played under him on the 16 and 17 [national] teams," said Beal. "I loved his coaching style. I knew coach Baker was developing a [strong] program [at Florida State]."
In a 2004 feature story on Beal written by Elliott Finebloom for Seminoles.com, coach Baker recalled his initial impressions of Beal.
"When I was with her at national team camp, the first time I met her I thought what a great person," Baker was quoted as saying in the story. "I thought to myself that it would be neat if she would ever consider Florida State. Not only did she consider it but obviously she came here."
Right from the start, Beal was an immediate impact player at center back position for the Seminoles. She started 23 of the team's 24 games her freshmen season and was named All-American.
She was sidelined with mononucleosis for a large portion of her sophomore season and started just nine games that season.
But she had an outstanding junior season the following year and was the defensive catalyst for a Florida State squad which, in its seven ACC games, allowed just five goals with four shutouts. Beal was the defensive force for a squad which recorded a school-record nine shutouts overall that season. She also was a key offensive contributor that season as she scored six goals and recorded seven assists. She had the game-winning assist in her team's ACC tourney semifinals win over Maryland.
That Seminoles team, following a 1-4 start, caught fire and ended up going to that year's College Cup — the Final Four of women's soccer.
One of the team's great moments at the NCAA tournament came when the Seminoles scored in the final seconds of overtime to defeat West Virginia, 3-2, in the Sweet 16. That put Florida State in the Elite Eight where it defeated state rival and host Florida, 2-1, in front of 2,000 fans.
"1,800 were Gator fans," recalled Beal, with a laugh.
Beal said there were bad feelings between the two Florida schools.
"It was the best feeling ever," said Beal, of eliminating the Gators. "It was everything a [bitter] rivalry is — not friendly at all. To beat them and go [to the Final Four] was a great feeling."
Florida State's season ended at the College Cup with a 2-0 loss to Connecticut in a national semifinals game played in cold temperatures at North Carolina State's home playing site.
Throughout that junior year, Beal, who earned Third Team All-American honors following the season, mentored then-freshmen teammate and defensive phenom Kelly Rowland, who a year later would break onto the national spotlight as an All-American.
Finebloom, in his story on Beal, quoted Rowland as saying, "[Katie] is my role model out there. She is the player I want to become. She's a great leader and an amazing player."
Beal was named to the ACC Championship All-Tournament that season for the second time in her career. Never before had a Seminoles player ever earned such honors twice.
In her final collegiate season in 2004, Beal was team captain for a Florida State team which had an outstanding regular season before struggling through a disappointing postseason in which the Seminoles lost both their playoff games — to Clemson in the first round of the ACC tournament, and to Boston College in the first round of the NCAA tourney — on penalty kicks.
But Beal, throughout her four years, was a top player for a program which had realized its greatest success ever in a four-year span by going 57-28-8 overall with four NCAA appearances (including the Final Four and two Sweet 16's) and two ACC finals appearances (losses to UNC).
"It is unbelievable what can happen in four years," said Beal, summing up her collegiate career, in the Seminoles.com feature story. "It has gone by so fast but so much has happened. I have been lucky and privileged to play here. If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't make a single different decision."
Murphy, Beal's high school coach, loved Beal's approach to the game.
"She was always ready to play and always a game player," said Murphy. "She loved to compete. She wasn't the flamboyant type of star. She's there in the clutch. She's someone I would want with the ball in the final minutes."
Katie Beal is 72 in a survey of the area's Top 100 Athletes by Connection Newspapers in 2000.