COLUMBIA — Maggie Pace knows there’s a time and place for goofing around.
At 4 p.m. April 9, before Hickman’s soccer game against Lindbergh, the Kewpies' senior jokes with a few of her teammates on the bleachers at Hickman High School. Rapping the lyrics to “Baby Got Back,” they grin and bust out dance moves under the beaming sun.
Jefferson City at Hickman
WHEN: 5 p.m.
WHERE: Hickman High School
But Pace is all competition when she steps foot on the soccer field or enters a competition for Distributive Education Clubs of America, an organization for students interested in business and marketing.
“She’s determined,” Hickman coach Tony Gragnani said. “She likes to come out and give it everything she’s got.”
Pace, 18, has developed that dual personality since the age of 9. She comes from a soccer background — every member of her large family has played at one point or another. Her father, Kevin Pace, is a coach for Carrera Soccer Club in Columbia.
“I like seeing my family up in the stands, especially my dad,” Pace said.
Pace has been playing with the same group of girls since her first recreational soccer team, coached by her father. She credits most of Hickman’s team camaraderie to years of experience and familiarity. This group of girls grew together, especially following the death of former Hickman coach Jon Strodtman from intestinal cancer in 2008.
“I think our biggest challenge was when coach Strodtman passed away. It was like, what are we going to do now?” Pace said.
When Gragnani took over as varsity coach — he’s now in his second year — he formed a solid relationship with Pace. Much like herself, Pace said Gragnani knows when to be serious and when to have fun. Among other things, the two bond over a similar interest in music, most notably radio station KBXR/102.3 FM.
“He works us hard. I don’t think there’s been a practice that I didn’t feel I didn’t get something accomplished,” Pace said.
Before Gragnani gets to the field, Pace is telling her teammates the riddle of the day she has for the coach. When he arrives, she bounces down the bleachers and asks if he wants to hear it now or later.
"You have 10 trees, and you're going to plant them in five rows of four. How do you do it?" Pace asks.
Gragnani didn't know the answer. Pace revealed you have to plant the trees in the shape of a star. When he asks her where she gets these riddles, Pace says that question is a riddle itself.
Pace's bubbly personality is contagious, and she and her friends create a laid-back and comfortable environment.
Her determination on the soccer field is noticeable with every play she makes. Known for her physical style, she doesn’t let up in a double overtime 2-1 loss to the Flyers. Gragnani acknowledges that she thrives on contact with opposing forwards and enjoys tackling as a defender. Pace doesn’t mince words.
“I like to work hard. I talk a lot on the field. Sometimes I have to be calmed down and sometimes there’s unneeded physical contact,” she said with a laugh.
Off the field, Pace pairs up with partner Drew Gieseke for DECA competitions. At the state level, the top five teams qualify for the national competition. Pace and Gieseke were chosen among 1,400 students in the state to compete at nationals, which will be held Friday in Louisville, Ky.
The pair met their junior year in a U.S. history class. Gieseke said Pace brings creativity and a sense of humor to the table as a partner in competitions.
"We like to joke around up until we get in there to keep things loose," he said.
Gieseke said Pace is a good partner to have because she always takes the lead when the two have to role play for competition and is constantly coming up with ideas.
Pace, who plans to attend MU in the fall to major in business marketing and advertising, first expressed an interest in business when she took Marketing I her freshman year. Since then, she’s taken advertising promotions and sports marketing classes at Hickman.
Although she doesn’t intend to play soccer for MU, Pace hopes to continue her club soccer career in college. Her current routine doesn’t allow for much down time. The high school season runs from March through the end of school, and then she begins playing for the Show-Me State team in the summer. From August to November, Pace plays club soccer, and then indoor competition begins in December.
Pace is dressed in black soccer gear, her mascara still fresh from the school day. Her hands sport chipped purple nail polish and a silver ring; her left wrist a St. Louis Cardinals bracelet. In some ways, she is very much what you’d expect of a high school senior — fun, eager and outgoing. But listening to Pace talk about ambition and her love for the game puts Gragnani’s thoughts of her into perspective. She’s driven.
“You gotta connect on a soccer field and with your DECA partner,” Pace said. “Whenever you put all your effort into it and know you’ve done the best you can, that’s the most rewarding outcome.”