TEWKSBURY – Ever since she's come on to the scene as a member of the Tewksbury Memorial High School girls' soccer team, Daniela Almeida has showcased her talents.
Those talents have now gone statewide.
The center-midfielder was one of 46 players in the entire state, including just one of five juniors and one of ten underclassmen, to be named to the All-State Girls Soccer Team, voted by the coaches and members of the Eastern Massachusetts Coaches Association.
The All-State recognition automatically puts her on the Eastern Mass team, which she made last year as a sophomore. That came a year after being named to the Merrimack Valley Conference second team.
Certainly going from second team in the league to all-state within two years is pretty remarkable.
"Dani is just a phenomenal player,” said head coach Samantha Tavantzis. “She's the best player that I have coached during my years in Tewksbury and in general my years prior. She's just skilled but she loves the game. She works so hard and just deserves everything that she gets. It's not just her skill and talent, she also just works her tail off. The combination of all of that is just every coach's dream to have a player like that.”
During her freshman season, Almeida's teammate Haley Mignon was selected to the All-State team, which was believed to be the first time in program history. Mignon was a forward, who had incredible speed and could put the ball in the net. Almeida is a different kind of player. She controls the center of the field, has incredible footwork and vision, and she can also score. This year she found the back of the net seven times, coming after finishing with nine goals and seven assists last year.
“Every year she has gotten better,” said Tavantzis. “Right now she is hurting so she's going to take some time off from soccer. She has really bad shin splints so you don't want to see that turn into a stress fracture.”
Immediately after last Friday's game and season ended, Almeida decided it was time to give her beat up body a rest.
“I started out with some pain in my calves at the beginning of the season,” she said. “I went to see Chris (Mahanna, the trainer). He helped me out, literally before every game. I ended up having X-Rays and they said it wasn't anything except shin splints, but I had shin splints before and it was never this painful. Right now I'm in a boot. Chris wanted me in a boot to relieve some pressure from my shins and calves.”
Despite the pain and the difficulty to run at times, Almeida was a focal point of the team's successful season. The Redmen started the season out winning the first seven games, before finishing 0-2-1 and not scoring a goal over the last three games.
“Honestly, I think we did really well,” she said of the team's 7-2-1 record. “Being undefeated for the first seven games definitely was really surprising. During the summer, we were all working really hard and getting ready for the season. Then (during the season) with some people getting the coronavirus definitely was tough with some people's fitness.
“The last three games was tough with some of those players out so that definitely took a toll on us but we still played hard and as a team.”
During that seven game stretch, Almeida scored a goal in five of the seven games, including two games with two tallies each, including getting the game winner in dramatic fashion in a road night game at Dracut.
“That game was probably one of my best games,” she said. “I know that I definitely had opportunities (to score), especially in the second half before I did end up scoring. We were up 2-0 and I remember coach took me out. They scored two goals and then with five minutes left in the game, I had to take my sweatpants and sweatshirt off and I ran onto the field. I just said to myself that I needed to work hard in these last five minutes and hopefully get a goal.
“To get that final goal (with two minutes left) was just so special and such an awesome feeling. It was just great.”
That 'awesome' feeling happened again when coach told her about being named one of the best players in Massachusetts.
“I was just so happy. I was in French class and I found out and it was just wow. All of my hard work is paying off and I was just so happy,” she said.