Gatorade High School Player of the Year in Michigan.
Three-time all-state first-team selection for soccer.
But even she gets anxious under the lights.
“I was actually really nervous,” freshman Danelle Underwood said. “It was our first really big game, and there was a huge crowd there.”
Underwood settled down pretty quickly and later became part of Michigan women’s soccer history by netting the game-winner against Texas in the first-ever night game at U-M Soccer Field.
But she doesn’t want to take much credit for it.
“I guess I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, and I got the goal,” Underwood said. “We played well as a team.”
But it’s a different kind of team that Underwood plays on now. In high school, she was the best, the go-to goal scorer, the unquestioned all-star of the team. But at Michigan, Underwood is more of a role player – not yet the indubitable star. She likes it that way.
“It’s different, but I like not being the best on the team,” Underwood said. “It helps me work harder and push myself to be better.”
Coach Debbie Rademacher is quick to praise Underwood’s effort.
“Her work ethic is really great,” Rademacher said. “We weren’t sure that she was going to be able to start for us this soon, but we certainly hoped it would happen. We knew she was talented enough, and she’s really done a good job.”
Underwood has started all five of Michigan’s games this year, scoring the goal against Texas and notching her first career point with an assist against Kansas. Her 12 shots tie her with senior Therese Heaton for third on the team, and Underwood tallied six of those in this past weekend’s loss to Miami (Ohio). But the adjustment to college soccer has been a big one for her.
“It is such a different game,” Underwood said. “Especially the physical nature of it. All the girls are fast, all the girls are strong, and it just takes time to get used to.”
But Underwood is still learning. One of her problems is that she doesn’t know just how good she is.
“We’re working with her in the air,” Rademacher said. “She underestimates her ability in the air, and she can really jump.”
Underwood is also working on knowing where to be when she attacks and when she defends. Rademacher describes it as a “work in progress.”
She’s only a freshman, and that could explain why Underwood has no specific long-term goals other than continuing to improve and progress. She has already gained the trust of her teammates and her coach, and they know they can count on her to deliver when the pressure is on.
As lights shine down on the U-M Soccer Field for the first season, a new job-opening has been created. The team needs a player who shines brighter when those lights come on. And they might have just discovered one. Even if she does get nervous first.