Sophia Elfrink winds up to kick the ball away from the goal

Sophia Elfrink winds up to clear the ball away from the goal during Monday’s game at Tolton. Elfrink plays goalie and midfielder and is the Trailblazers’ captain.

In a way, Sophia Elfrink takes pride in her short-term memory.

If you ask what her favorite sport is to play, she’ll tell you the one that’s in season at that moment. Then, she’ll say she “couldn’t even tell you what I had for breakfast this morning.” And of course, she had to be reminded by her coach on April 13 about the impressive peculiarity of the feat she had just accomplished.

Tolton led Moberly 3-0 by halftime thanks to Elfrink’s hat trick. When Tolton girls soccer coach Chuck Register pulled Elfrink aside to congratulate her, he pointed out that not many people play goalie and score a hat trick on the same day.

Oh, right, Elfrink thought. She had been in goal that afternoon and helped Tolton to a tie against Mexico in the same tournament.

Elfrink scored 15 goals in the 2019 season as a forward. She defended Tolton’s goal in 13 games. The day before her double-talented double-header, she scored a goal and combined for a shutout in a 2-0 win over Kirksville.

On March 30, Elfrink set an all-time school record with 40 saves in one game. A month earlier, you might have found her scoring 20 points for the Tolton girls basketball team. A couple of months before that, she could be seen playing for the volleyball team.

She was only a freshman.

“Only a freshman,” Register repeated in self-bewilderment.

Tolton’s rising three-sport star athlete said she is in no rush to decide which sport she wants to pursue past high school — her long-time goal has been to play a college sport — and likewise, she doesn’t plan on choosing between goalie and attacker anytime soon. As for which position suits her best, she’s aware that that’s a pretty good problem to have.

On one hand, her very first moments on a soccer pitch exhibited her competitive instinct, in the form of second grade three-on-three scrimmages.

“Basically it was just a herd of buffalo running around,” Elfrink said. “But I was told by my fellow teammates when I was younger that I was the aggressive one up there dribbling the ball, taking it to the goal.”

On the other hand, being in goal felt natural when she was first placed there by a coach around the same time. And Elfrink tries to be a stoic presence on the field, a characteristic more fitting of a keeper.

“I like the leadership aspect of it,” she said. “It’s a lot of just being able to know what you see in front of you and helping your team make the best decision to defend.”

At any rate, Tolton’s task will be to balance her two-pronged talent and use it in the most effective manner possible for the next three years. This season Register said he tended to put Elfrink in goal against tougher opponents.

“It’s a luxury a little bit because you know she can take care of the whole game back there in goal, but then also hey we need a spark, let’s put Sophie out in the field and see if she can get one for us,” Register said. “It’s just the whole idea of finding a place for her and finding other girls to go around her and support whatever she’s doing, whether it’s in goal or on the field.”

Figuring that out will be a key component toward reviving a girls soccer program that just failed to win a district title for the first time in six years. The Trailblazers were eliminated in the district semifinals Monday, 2-1, on a goal with two minutes left. And yes, Elfrink scored Tolton’s only goal.

It’s an earlier end to the season than Elfrink would have liked, but she’s using the extra time productively. On Thursday night, the lifelong Columbian road-tripped to St. Louis to see her heroes on the U.S. Women’s National Team play one of their World Cup send-off games.

“They’ve all been a big influence, just the way they’re speaking out (about wage inequality) and how they’re not afraid to go after what they want,” she said. “Helps me see that even I can do that, even at high school level.”

She also takes tactical notes from watching the country’s best, particularly midfielder Julie Ertz.

“She makes these late runs into the box and scores the goals,” Elfrink said. “And her ability to work with the forwards, because sometimes she’ll switch out with Alex Morgan or Carli Lloyd. She’s able to be a very fluid player, and I want to be able to do that with my midfield.”

Applying the U.S. National Team’s strategies to high school soccer is ambitious, but Elfrink doesn’t fear ambition. She already has a name to live up to at Tolton — her graduating brother, Vincent, played for the boys team — and her younger sister will likely become her teammate in two years. Tolton is becoming Elfrink’s dominion.

“I can’t wait to be back,” she said. “Can’t wait for the next three years.”

Supervising editor is Melanie Rau.

  • University of Missouri spring football beat writer and MU junior studying sports journalism. Reach me at bdurando@outlook.com, or in the newsroom at 573-882-5700.

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