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UMW soccer players dies after collapsing during soccer practice

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UPDATE: Preliminary autopsy results show that Hirten died of an enlarged heart, according to a statement Hirten’s family provided to the university.

Date published: 8/20/2009


University of Mary Washington junior Preston Hirten was taking a water break during soccer practice Tuesday afternoon when he collapsed, a UMW official said.

Hirten, 20, of Westport, Conn., was later pronounced dead at Mary Washington Hospital. Douglas Searcy, UMW's vice president for student affairs, said yesterday he didn't know the cause of death.

Searcy said the soccer team had been practicing for about 30 minutes when Hirten collapsed. The team had drilled for the first 15 minutes before taking a water break, he said.

After then scrimmaging for about 15 minutes, Hirten collapsed as he went to get water, Searcy said.

Tuesday's temperature reached a high of 95 degrees, but it's unclear whether Hirten's death was heat-related. The state medical examiner's office routinely investigates sudden deaths.

"Everybody did everything right yesterday," Searcy said. "We followed our protocol. We did everything in our power to respond to that situation."

Fredericksburg police spokeswoman Natatia Bledsoe said someone on the soccer field called 911 at 4:14 p.m. The caller said Hirten had suffered a seizure, was breathing, but was unresponsive.

An ambulance with two paramedics arrived at 4:19 p.m. and upgraded the call to respiratory arrest a minute later, Bledsoe said. Emergency personnel administered CPR and were en route to Mary Washington Hospital at 4:36 p.m., she said.

Hirten's teammates arrived at the hospital a short time later and were told he had passed away, Searcy said. UMW is offering counseling to his teammates and friends.

UMW sophomore soccer player Robby Davis called Hirten a great athlete, student and person. "He was definitely hardworking," he said. "He's one of the hardest-working players I'm sure any of us has ever played with."

Davis said he didn't feel comfortable talking about Tuesday's practice. Efforts to reach UMW's soccer coach and athletic director yesterday were unsuccessful.

Hirten transferred to Mary Washington from Hobart College in New York at the beginning of the 2008-09 academic year, UMW President Judy Hample wrote Tuesday in a letter to employees.

A midfielder, he was named to all-state and all-conference soccer teams for his play at Staples High School. The team's Web site, staplessoccer.com, has information on Hirten's death, as well as comments from friends of the family.

"Preston epitomized Staples soccer," head coach Dan Woog said in a statement on the Web site. "Anyone who watched him play--who saw his combination of speed, skill, and above all determination--knew he loved the game, and loved being on the field with his friends."

Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402
Email: jbranscome@freelancestar.com