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Stokes finding her way in USA

The USF women’s soccer team has found a gem in sophomore forward Demi Stokes.

In her first season at USF, after a prolific junior career in her native England, Stokes leads the Bulls (4-3-2) in scoring with four goals on the season. It only took two games for Stokes to score her first goal in the U.S., netting it against Indiana on Aug. 26.

Hailing from South Shields in northeastern England, Stokes first visited USF in December 2010 and immediately felt that she belonged with the Bulls, she said.

“They were good to me,” Stokes said. “I feel like we really had that connection.”

Though she is still adapting to the quick American style of play, Stokes said her success came as no surprise. She is currently ranked second in shots in the Big East, an achievement she said is a result of hard work and dedication.

“I only prepare myself to do my best,” Stokes said. “I feel like in the process of my improvement, I’ve done everything right.”

Being considered an impact player is not new to Stokes. While in England, she was the first female ever named captain of her school team, which featured all boys at the time.

Stokes represented England in the Under-19 European Championship in 2009 and again in the 2010 Under-20 Women’s World Cup. She also led the club team Sunderland to the Women’s Football Association Cup Final, the most prestigious club tournament in England.

Now, aiding the Bulls through a tough season entering conference play, Stokes is excited to help USF at home against defending national champion Notre Dame (4-4-1) tonight.

In this match, Stokes said she believes that keeping a level head will be the key to victory.

“I’m excited, everyone should be excited,” she said. “But we need to stay composed if we want to come out and give a good performance.”

USF coach Denise Schilte-Brown said that along with her ability, Stokes brings “international experience” to the table, having played for her country against the best peers in the world.

USF provides the perfect environment for Stokes to flourish, Schilte-Brown said, with other experienced strikers taking attention off of her, such as seniors Chelsea Klotz and Noelle Pieiro and junior Taylor Patterson. Schilte-Brown said she sees a bright future for the young forward.

“She’s really going to get better and develop here,” she said. “You’re just seeing a glimpse of the ability she has.”

Fans can get that glimpse at 7 tonight, as the Bulls host the Fighting Irish in a nationally televised game on Fox Soccer Channel.

The matchup includes another top scorer in Notre Dame senior forward Melissa Henderson, who leads the Big East in scoring with 10 goals on the season. Conference play continues at home Sunday at 1 p.m., when USF lines up against DePaul (2-6-1).