Written by Riley Quinlan
My freshman year at Heritage High engulfed me in unfamiliarity. As an insecure, awkward 14-year-old girl nervously scurrying through Husky hallways, I yearned for structure in my life. Throughout middle school, I had comfortably established an atmosphere of friendships, as well as a regular routine occupied by school and extracurricular activities. Soccer, at that point, was only a lighthearted way to enrich relations with my peers. Eventually, though, by playing recreational club soccer, I embarked on a path that would later supply me with unimaginable opportunities.
I continued playing soccer in hopes of instituting a routine which had hitherto been flooded by freshman struggles. By no means was I a star, but it invited balance back into my life. In the spring of 2017, I tried out for the Heritage women’s soccer team in order to solidify a consistent activity within my hectic schedule. I cowered at the thought of competing against girls three years older than me and the strenuous preseason workouts, but I went through with the tryouts anyway. The encouragement and enthusiastic support from the upperclassmen led me to believe that I could make this team. Numerous agonizing days passed following tryouts, but I clung on to hope. On a late January night, I nervously opened my laptop to view the new team roster. To my relief, Coach Sloan had uploaded the players’ names who made the varsity team, and my name was displayed in a thousand gloriously beaming pixels. I heaved a breath of satisfaction, for making the high school team only increased my ambition to achieve greatness in this sport.
In addition to high school soccer, club soccer increasingly permeated my life. I was determined to obtain a spot on the highest club team, but that required more dedication than what I was inputting at the time. I needed to alter my mindset if I wanted to improve my game, so I looked up to players my age who embodied the prowess of elite players. In recognizing their strengths, I saw the gaps in my performance. This helped me to hone in on my shortcomings so I could ultimately ascend to the peak of my potential.
In a few years, I gradually worked my way up to the highest club team. Accepting this year-long spot meant I had to quit high school soccer after my sophomore year. I would miss the exuberant Hooligans’ “HUSKIES!!!” roar following the national anthem, as well as their endless cheers during our toughest games, but I understood that if I wanted to compete at the next level, I would need to make sacrifices. Upon making the top team, I was apprehensive about my new teammates and worried if there would be a huge disparity between their skill level and mine. Almost every player was already committed to a top Division I soccer program in the nation, but I was still hopeful that I could meet—and possibly even exceed—their echelon.
My junior year became became overwhelmed with club practices, private technical trainings, fitness sessions, and other grueling activities in order to help improve every aspect of my game. Luckily, I was guided through the process by benevolent coaches who recognized my potential before I could. Soon, college scouts began attending my games, and I was able to showcase my newly acquired skills. Months passed, and a monsoon of emails flooded my inbox with invitations to ID camps and coaches reaching out to see if I would consider their university. This was monumental for me, for only a few years earlier, I had never dreamt of being able to play at such a high level.
After months of communicating with coaches and visiting campuses, I verbally committed to UNC Chapel Hill in June 2019. To me, their soccer program stood out from the rest due to their remarkable history decorated with 22 of the 36 NCAA national championship titles and a distinguished multitude of alumni—many of whom are now World Cup champions and Olympic medalists. This decision transformed my life, for it reoriented my work ethic and made my future slightly clearer. I’m ecstatic to see what lessons I learn as a student and player in college, as well as the relationships that will blossom. I will forever be grateful that soccer brought me incredible friendships and golden opportunities; without it, I would be lost in trying to assemble my future.
At times, my mental strength withers as I think about the huge role I am destined to fill in less than a year. Will I live up to all those players who have dominated the collegiate pitch before me? What if I’m not good enough? These pervasive questions are hurdles on my journey towards mental toughness, but I know that with hard work I can tackle the challenge. I’m looking forward to this special college experience, and I’m excited to share it with my future teammates.