Georgia’s prestigious Gatorade Girls Soccer Player of the Year Award is back in a familiar place. Make that two places — Parkview and Gwinnett County.
Parkview’s Nieva Gaither earned the honor, announced Thursday morning, for the second straight season. It marks the fourth time a Panther has earned the award since 2007.
Her win also continued an impressive streak for Gwinnett — the last seven Gatorade state players of the year in girls soccer have been from the county.
“Nieva is a great player and at times carried the Parkview team on her back,” said Chad Carithers, head coach of rival Brookwood. “She does not do it in a selfish manner. She will make runs knowing that two defenders will follow her. In turn, that opens up space for her teammates.”
Gaither’s past two Gatorade awards were preceded by Gwinnett players Rachel Jones of Collins Hill (in 2017), Ella Stevens of Grayson (2015 and 2016), Jennifer Westendorf of Grayson (2014) and Rachel Garcia of Greater Atlanta Christian (2013). Parkview players also won the honor in 2008 (Ashley Baker) and 2007 (Marah Falle).
In the past 13 years, Gwinnett has produced the Gatorade state player of the year nine times in girls soccer. Marist’s Laura Eddy, a Gwinnett resident, won in 2009.
Gaither matched her own school record from 2018 with 37 goals this year and had 11 assists, leading Parkview to the Class AAAAAAA semifinals. She injured the deltoid ligament in her ankle during the Panthers’ second round win, but returned and scored both goals in a semifinal loss on penalty kicks to eventual state champion North Gwinnett.
“In the semifinal, she was probably about 70 percent to be honest with you,” Parkview girls coach Judson Hamby said. “For her to still create chances and still will us across the line at times says a lot about her.”
Through three high school seasons, Gaither has 87 goals and 30 assists. She has committed to play college soccer at Furman.
Off the field, Gaither maintains a 3.97 GPA and volunteers with a food bank and an animal rescue organization, as well as Project 101, which gathers school supplies for children in the Phillipines, her mother’s native country.
The Gatorade award recognizes not only outstanding athletic excellence, but also high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the field. It annually recognizes one winner in the District of Columbia and each of the 50 states that sanction high school football, girls volleyball, boys and girls cross country, boys and girls basketball, boys and girls soccer, baseball, softball, and boys and girls track and field, and awards one National Player of the Year in each sport. From the 12 national winners, one male and one female athlete are each named Gatorade High School Athlete of the Year. In all, 607 athletes are honored each year.
As a part of Gatorade’s marketing platform, “Play it Forward,” Gaither has the opportunity to award a $1,000 grant to a local or national youth sports organization of her choosing. She is also eligible to submit an essay to win one of 12 $10,000 spotlight grants for the organization of choice, which will be announced throughout the year.