CHAMPAIGN – The old adage that size doesn't matter doesn't quite fit Mary Regan.
The four-year varsity player on the Centennial girls' soccer team actually uses her small stature – she's only 5-foot – to her advantage in most situations, using her superior ball skills, vision and speed.
"I stake my place on the field pretty well," Regan said. "It definitely gives me a lower center of gravity to be able to move around. I can definitely switch my direction faster than other people, and I use that to my advantage."
Whenever her size could be a disservice, Regan's heart and hustle more than make up for her lack of height. But she has endured a lot of abuse through the years.
"I've always been the tinniest one," Regan said. "It's something I didn't really notice until people pointed it out.
"But there are definitely little things. I can get pushed around fairly easily. I've gotten so many bruises in the forehead and head injuries from people's elbows and shoulders."
Centennial coach Hsiung Marler said he admires her toughness.
"A lot of times she's the smallest player on the field, and yet, especially her sophomore and junior years, most of the goals she got was when she was mixing it up with bigger players and scrapping inside the box, and doing the hard work," he said. "For somebody her size, she's one of the toughest players pound-for-pound that we have around."
Regan, who picked up the sport when she was 7, has been a staple in the Chargers' program the last four years. The forward has been a team leader in scoring, and the thrill of putting the pressure on the defense to stop her from scoring a goal gets her excited.
She will try to put a lot of pressure on the Normal Community defense when the Chargers (2-1) host the Big 12 Conference foe today.
"I'm definitely a striker," she said. "I can definitely feel it, when I'm breathing down a defender's neck. Something inside me just kind of turns on, and I just want it really badly. It's something that just makes me tick. There's something about it that makes me go a little bit faster, a little bit harder."
Regan's leadership stands tall on and off the field.
"She's one of two players that have been on varsity since their freshman year," Marler said. "You'd have to go pretty far back to find somebody else that's been a captain for two years, so that says a lot about what the other girls think about her and how hard she works."
Regan also has led the charge in an aggressive offseason regimen and a renewed work ethic in practice, where Marler has been putting his players through the paces.
"It's not easy, but the girls haven't complained," he said. "They've stepped up and have been ready for every challenge, and Mary's been one of the people that have been right at the front of that. Mary and the other captains (Clare Cuttell and Rose D'Angelo) have always been the ones to push the other players and who have set the bar high."
The Chargers have been an up-and-down program during Regan's career.
"Centennial's gone through some strong years and some years where we didn't do quite as well as we hoped," Marler said. "The success that we have had, a lot of that has been because of Mary."
But Regan just hopes all the hard work pays off for her and her teammates as the pressure mounts in her final season.
"In the past we've had some drama on the team, and some really disappointing years, but this year we've got a great group of girls, we've got some awesome new coaches, we've got some fire under our heels, and we really want to win this year," she said. "We're all really excited and really energized.
"I'm definitely feeling pressure because we have a great group of girls and it would be really disappointing if we didn't go anywhere with it."