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Keeper finds second home

A scholarship to a Division-IA women’s soccer program and a chance to compete for a starting job is good enough for some. But for Breck Bankester, family ties mean more than any scholarship.

Four years ago the USF goalkeeper, named Tuesday as Conference USA Co-Defensive Player of the Year, left home in Pensacola to go on scholarship to the University of Tulsa. After just a week, she realized she missed her family too much and moved back home.

“I realized that I was too young to try to handle being that far away from home,” Bankester said. “So I went home, and I guess you could say I found myself.”

It didn’t take long for Bankester, 21, who will be a key figure as the women’s soccer team plays its first game of the Conference USA tournament against Saint Louis today in Charlotte, to realize that she still wanted to play soccer. To help overcome her absence of family, she decided to find a school close to St. Petersburg where her older brother lived.

Bankester’s mother said when Breck was in high school, she and her brother were very close.

“A lot of people thought they were girlfriend and boyfriend,” said Bankester’s mother, Jean. “She (still) wants to be near him and he wants to be near her.”

The attachment that she and her brother share proved strong enough to lure her away from the scholarship at Tulsa and brought her to USF, where Bulls coach Logan Fleck could offer Bankester nothing more than a shot at making the team.

Bankester showed up at USF’s front door without a scholarship and with no promises to play soccer as a Bull. She would have to walk-on to the team and beat out scholarship players to earn her starting spot.

“I think that all that Breck was looking for was a fair opportunity to show what she could do,” Fleck said. “She has been working very hard at gaining more and more confidence and it has paid off.”

Bankester said now that she has played for Fleck, she wouldn’t want to play for any other coach.

“He is like my second dad,” Bankester said. “When I found him I knew I was going to stay here because he is not just a coach, he is like a parental figure.”

Bankester’s mother likes that Fleck has given confidence to her daughter.

“I think (Fleck) has been a wonderful influence,” Jean Bankester said. “He has encouraged her to make better grades and I think she is very happy and comfortable (at USF).”

Bankester, along with teammate Katie Reed, was a first team All-C-USA selection after she led the league in saves (107), averaging 6.29 saves per game. Assisted by a veteran defense, including third-team all-conference defender Stacci Sastre, Bankester ranked among the league leaders with four shutouts this season.

Fleck has been impressed by what Bankester has been able to accomplish at USF and said he knew she had a lot of potential. The junior brings more than soccer ability alone to the USF campus, Fleck said.

“Breck is extremely special to me both on and off the field,” Fleck said. “Breck is one of the best (goalkeepers to ever play at USF) without a doubt.