Ever since I was 2 years old and could walk, I have played soccer. I have dedicated practically my entire life to the sport — practicing nearly every day, watching soccer on TV and playing pickup with my friends whenever I could. I studied the game and strived to become the best player I could be; I made it my dream to play college soccer. Fast forward 16 years, my dreams came true.
When I committed to Emory University, I was beyond excited. I was going to my dream school for academics and soccer. But when the pandemic came my dreams were put on hold. Emory canceled athletics, forcing me to wait an entire year to play in my first regular season college game. I committed to play soccer at Emory during the beginning of my junior year of high school in 2018, so after waiting two years to start college, I had to wait an additional year. Needless to say, I was extremely frustrated.
I was not used to life without soccer. I had never spent much time away from the sport. Even though I was able to train on my own and in small groups, it felt like an eternity until I could finally play in a collegiate game this fall.
While I am technically a sophomore on the team, I feel like a freshman. This season is my first college soccer season I’m able to play in; the experience is new to me. I’ve only just begun adjusting to a new team, stronger and faster competition and the grind of playing a collegiate sport at a top Division III program while also studying at an elite university.
I’m also not the only “freshman.” Instead of one new class joining the team this fall, there are two — the Class of 2025 and 2024, which makes 11 of us. Over a third of our team is new and ready to make an impression. There are also some fifth-year players on our team who used their extra year of eligibility, as well as a transfer student. As a result, we have a big team of 30 players, making it hard to stand out.
In this unusual year, there are many teams like ours who have long rosters with a large number of freshmen and sophomores who have never set foot on a collegiate field. This can present challenges for teams because the new members have to build player chemistry and the returning ones have to recreate that on-field connection.
Yet, our team has overcome this challenge by always being there for each other and working hard. We have spent nearly every day together since the start of the semester, and together we have grown. The freshman and sophomore class have gotten very close because we are all in the same boat — we are on this journey together to learn and thrive. Playing at the college level for the first time puts a lot of pressure on us, but we are here to do what we love.
Another challenge we faced was socially adapting to college. Since my sophomore class did not have a season our freshman year, we got the chance to meet other students at Emory and spend time with them. However, the freshmen now do not have much extra time to branch out of the team and meet others. The additional challenge of COVID forces teams like ours to make conscious decisions regarding social activities in order to prioritize the season and the health of our teammates. It can be difficult at times to socialize outside of our sport, but that’s a sacrifice we took on to do what we love.
Although we face certain challenges, the upperclassmen support us and give advice, having previously been in our shoes. It is very special to be a part of a team that works hard to achieve a goal while developing skills like teamwork, problem-solving, communication and perseverance. It is this development that creates the bonds on the team that mean so much to each individual player.
It was very difficult to adapt to the time commitment of school and soccer; however, the busy schedule has become something I love. Going to practice is the highlight of my day because I get to forget about everything else going on in my life and just play soccer. Although COVID took away a year of our collegiate career, it taught us to cherish the time we have to play soccer and adapt to the ever-changing situations that life throws at us. I may only have two more years of playing soccer at Emory after this one, and I plan to make the most of it and enjoy every step of the way.