The coaches who recruited her saw it, that special something extra that separates her from the soccer pack. The family who has always supported her knows where that comes from, and as Chery Chavez signed to play college ball at Our Lady of the Lake, the mysterious story surrounding her exploits and mythology came into full view at last.

The truth is, one of the city’s greatest all-time players had an interesting route to the big time. Everyone knows about her four years of excellence, capped by a 26-goal senior season that catapulted the Vela girls back into the playoffs. But they might not understand how it all came together. Her mother, Anelle, can explain, because she was there.

“Chery never played select or club soccer, mainly because as a single mom I didn’t have the time to travel with her, and I had to pay the bills,” said the proud ex cheerleader from P-SJ-A North. “But she did get the benefit of the city leagues, and my cousin Omar Milan, he played professionally, and he was able to help her during the summers.”

Bottom line, Chery grew up with a passion for the sport, and though she did not make the rounds of the club scene, she has surpassed the vast majority of kids, anywhere down here, with her amazing abilities. Lots of yard soccer, dribbling alone, learning the skills.

Coach Tonya Garcia knows firsthand about the mythology.

“The first time I saw here was on Youtube,” she told the gathering at Vela High Thursday. “I was amazed at her juggling, her ball skills, and I knew that she was going to be great.”

Our Lady of the Lake was next to figure out the secret of the homegrown superstar, including Shane Hurley, the men’s coach who played at Harlingen High in the 1990s and thus had a hand in the recruiting of his home area.

“She came up for a series of workouts with the girls and she mixed really well with them, which is important,” Hurley recalled. “But the thing that stood out was her recognition of situations, her skills, and mainly her creativity. You get a lot of kids in the same cookie cutter mold from club soccer, and that’s fine, but with Chery … she showed an unpredictable quality to make things happen.”

That is something she has done for four glorious seasons with the Lady SaberCats, first under then-coach Hugo Leal and later with Garcia; the knack for the quick reaction and tremendous athletic play, turning a 50-50 ball into a speedy run for goal. And more often than not, as stated, into a goal for the Blue and Black.

But aside from her offensive endeavors, Chavez will leave the program stronger in some ways than it was before. The post-Chery Era has begun but rather than be unduly daunted by the prospect of taking the field without Miss Automatic, the rest of the gang is fired up to see what comes next.

“I think she was able to be a leader in so many ways, both with her example in playing but in what she was able to teach us,” said stellar defender Bri de Leon, who now inherits more of the mantle of leadership responsibility. “She would take you aside and make suggestions about what you were doing, and it meant a lot to all of us.”

This is exactly what went down a few years back when Chery’s older sister Alannah – a city MVP just as her younger sibling would be – graduated after a tremendous career. The First Chavez was a precision killer on the pitch as a defender, bringing a passion and intensity for the game that she helped instill in her sister.

And Chery would add another element to the legend, as a player whose performance and presence have meant so much to the program. Excited and nervous about going to college to play, the goal hound noted that she doesn’t think anything will change as the future approaches.

“I always used soccer, because I loved it so much, to help me in all ways in life,” she explained. “When I was little, it helped me do better in academics because I wanted to play so bad and I knew I had to attack the books, too.”

So there it is, the definitive version of the Chery Story, as told by its principals. It’s the tale of a kid who took a path less reckoned with, and trod it steadily – and with unrivaled panache – to stardom. And the best, if we know No. 8, is yet to come.