FORTVILLE — More routine then ritual, though equally a little bit of both, once Mt. Vernon’s Alexi Hardie steps onto the soccer field, her initial inclination directly reflects her game.

Regardless if the temperature is boiling over or brisk, Hardie locks in each time, ready to roll up her sleeves.

“Ever since I was little, I’ve hated sleeves,” Hardie laughed. “When I get hot, I have to roll them up. At first when I start warming up, they have to come up. If I don’t do that, then I feel weird.”

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The Marauders and girls soccer head coach Steve Williams expect nothing less from their star midfielder.

To Williams, Hardie is the glue — the one player who keeps everyone together, moving in unison. To her teammates, she’s the anchor — patrolling the middle, always observing and reacting, dictating the offense.

For Hardie, she’s doing nothing more than breathing.

“I just love the competition (soccer) brings to me, all the challenges. It’s fun to me, and it’s always been there for me,” she explained. “If I ever have problems or anything, I know I can just go out there and it helps me. I don’t know. It’s like a lifestyle.”

Soccer is what Hardie has embraced since the age of 4, and her passion in addition to her talents led to the junior being named the 2017 All-Hancock County Player of the Year award as voted upon by the coaches and the Daily Reporter sports staff.

“She was the hub of everything we did this season,” Williams said. “We didn’t necessarily make an attempt to play through her, but good things definitely happened when she got the ball.”

On 27 occasions, to be exact, Hardie ignited the Marauders’ offense this year. For a second consecutive season, Hardie posted 27 assists after dishing out 16 as a freshman.

Roughly 25 percent of the Marauders goals this season — 104 in total — went through Hardie, a fact she takes immense pride in, though statistics aren’t her thing. Winning is, something she’s done plenty of in season and with her club team, FC Pride.

“At first, my freshman year, I went into high school focused on distributing the ball because with club that’s all we do,” Hardie said. “After I got 27 last year, all I wanted to do was to get assists. I look to pass more.

“My goal is to keep everyone in the game. I want us to stay together as a team and win.”

Hardie’s keen field awareness was the primary reason for the Marauders’ 15 victories in 2017.

In 12 of Mt. Vernon’s 19 matches, she record at least one assist. She registered a season-best five during the team’s season-opening 14-0 win against Mississinewa on Aug. 15. Hardie had eight multi-assist games while adding nine goals overall.

For someone with Hardie’s competitive fire, falling short of double-digit goals would weigh heavy, but she only sees the result, which happened often when connecting with Mt. Vernon seniors Nicole Ratts (18 goals), Emma Langdon (16 goals) and Morgan Scruggs (27 goals).

“That’s the great thing about her, she’s really humble,” Williams said. “She doesn’t care if she gets a lot of attention. She has such an even keel nature. Of course, she’d get upset when we lose, but she keeps a really good perspective. She’s the adult in the room.”

Maturity has come from experience and from her family, which has lived the game for generations. Her paternal uncle, Raymond, played soccer in Lawrence Township and worked his way up through Lawrence North High School before competing at the University of Indianapolis.

Her younger niece, Brianna Hale, a soon-to-be Mt. Vernon freshman next year, plays the game faithfully. Her paternal grandfather, James Hardie, however, who Alexi never knew since he passed before she was born, truly got the ball rolling.

“He coached in Scotland and came over in 1968. He helped start the British-American Soccer Club and coached there, and then along with Larry Harmon was instrumental in Lawrence Soccer [Corporation] at Lawrence [Soccer] Park,” Alexi’s father, Jim Hardie, said. “And then he started the first soccer team at Lawrence North High School.”

While soccer skipped over Jim Hardie, it rooted itself in Alexi’s bloodstream while she cut her teeth in Lawrence Township and carried over as she transferred into the Mt. Vernon district in middle school.

“For me to see it with her is amazing, knowing I grew up in it,” Jim Hardie said. “I was a football and baseball guy, so watching soccer back then was brutal. But then to see that passion and to see it in her, I’m so proud.”

Her work ethic is the catalyst to her success, Jim Hardie noted. If Alexi isn’t at practice with the Marauders or FC Pride, she’s working out with him or running to maintain her cardio. It’s her comfort zone: an open field, a ball and her dream to be the best.

“That’s the whole thing about the way she plays and how consistent she’s been; like with her assists each year and what she does with the team, it’s the work she puts in at practice and extra practice,” Jim Hardie said. “That’s what drives her.”

Alexi’s hope is that her dedication will eventually lead to longevity in the sport. Uncommitted at the time, Hardie has already been contacted by the University of Southern Indiana and UIndy, where she wouldn’t mind continuing a family tradition.

With one more high school season ahead, there’s potential for more recruiters to come.

“She was one of the best kept secrets, and now, she’s not,” Williams said. “She works at her craft. She tries to perfect everything she does, but she takes it all in stride.

“You can be a perfectionist and you can go off into the weeds with that if you’re not careful mentally, but once she’s on the field, what happens, happens. She puts the work in beforehand, so she has confidence in her game.”

She’s always ready to roll up her sleeves.

“I love how we’re all like family [at Mt. Vernon],” Hardie said. “Being around them makes soccer fun. I don’t care [about my stats] as long as we’re winning, and we stay together as a team, I’m fine.”

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Rich Torres is sports editor at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at rtorres@greenfieldreporter.com or 317-477-3227.