Master’s head coach Dan Waldeck hopes Stephanie Soares brings “immense confidence and drive” back with her after she played with the Brazilian women’s national team at the Pan American Games in Peru last week.
Soares was already one of the best players in the NAIA as a freshman in 2018-19. But Waldeck knows she can be even better.
“It’s so easy to look at what she did as a freshman and think, ‘Wow,’” Waldeck said of his 6-foot-6 NAIA first-team All-American. “But I know she has so much in her, and she is driven to pull every ounce of potential out.”
Without question, Soares will return from Peru with a gold medal after Brazil beat the United States 79-73 in the tournament’s championship on Saturday. The game capped an impressive showing by Soares in what was at least her second stint with the Brazilian national team.
In Peru, Brazil played five games in five days, going unbeaten, with Soares averaging 5.6 points and 2.4 rebounds. She averaged 16 minutes a night and led the team with seven blocked shots.
“The best part was being able to play against a higher level of competition,” said Soares, who averaged 16.2 points, 13.4 rebounds and 4.9 blocks for the Mustangs. “It encourages me to want to practice more to be a better player.”
Soares’ best outing of the tournament came in the final game of the preliminary round, an 81-37 win over Paraguay. She played 27 minutes and scored 15 points, remaining on the floor long enough to find a rhythm. She added five rebounds and two blocks.
Soares saw the floor less in the semifinal (a 62-48 win over Colombia) and the final, but she still took the experiences as a positive, relishing the opportunity to compete against the United States in the championship.
“It was awesome to play against them and to see the level of basketball because they all probably play or have played in Division 1,” she said.
Waldeck was proud of the way Soares performed when she got her opportunities.
“I’m so excited for what she’s done, is doing, and will do,” Waldeck said. “God has granted her opportunities to put Him on display on the biggest of stages, and I’m so proud of how she represents Him. She had a very solid tournament, and I know it’s going to pay enormous dividends for her moving forward.”
Soares said she plans to focus on fine-tuning her post moves before Master’s gathers to make another run at an NAIA Division 1 title. The Mustangs reached the NAIA quarterfinals for the second time in program history last year, and they return a strong core beyond just Soares.
Anika Neuman, a 6-1 rising junior who complements Soares as a stretch-four, was an NAIA All-American and All-Golden State Athletic Conference pick last season. The Mustangs also feature a deep group of veteran guards.
“I think we’re going to have a great team this year,” said Soares, who was named the 2018-19 GSAC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. “I’m looking forward to it.”