Tribute to soccer’s seniors

As fall season starts to wind down, it gives athletes a time to reflect on their season and the one to come, but there also comes a time in one’s career where you realize you’re at the end of the road, and soon you must get off and build a new one. This year the women’s soccer team will be losing two of its strong empowering women who were and will forever continue to be impactful leaders on the team, Chloe Gierymski and Claire Vinopal. I honestly have not known either of them for too long, but these ladies’ dedication to the soccer program leads me to believe that whatever they seek to achieve in life will be fulfilled. From an athlete’s standpoint, I think it’s important to stress how important bonds are, for I believe that will make or break one’s season. However, I also believe that future seasons will reflect past ones, factors dependent on past coaches and players. That being said, I think I speak for the entire Women’s soccer team when I say this: Just because your season may be over, that does not mean you’re not still part of the team, and we will never stop fighting for you, on or off the field. Every time I step out onto the field, I think about my past teammates and coaches, the ones on the field with me and the ones on the sideline, and I say, “This is for them.” That is what I love most about soccer — not the game, not the score, but the bond that is gained through playing with it. This year the Women’s soccer team came in with a new coach, new players, and a hope for a better attitude and results. After last season’s disappointing turnout, everyone was excited for the change, and ran into it with open arms; now nearing the end of the season I honestly cannot say that the women’s soccer team is not disappointed. In our short two months, we’ve accomplished so many things that continue to be overshadowed by a statistic, our game’s score. However, no matter how many times that number looms in our brains or other teams brand it on our foreheads, we rise, step onto that field, smirks sprawled against our faces as we eye our opponents and chant the only thing that really matters in that moment, “Together!” And that’s how we will continue to improve next year and all the years to come: Jersey numbers left soaked with the pride that comes with being a Viking.

To wrap-up Chloe’s athletic experience here at Lawrence, I asked her what her favorite memory was, and she said, “I’m not sure I could pick just one memory! I’ve made some of my best memories of my college career with the team. From dancing in the locker rooms, playing games on repeat, to training during preseason every single day, to always goofing around together — all of the memories I have made with this team will always hold a very special place in my heart.” Since it is for now the end of her career, I asked her what she will miss most about being an athlete, she responded by saying, “What I will definitely miss the most about being an athlete is being on a team. Knowing there is always a group of girls who always have your back on and off the field is an experience incomparable to any other.” Just like entering and exiting a door, you may walk through it knowing who you are, what you want to become, and what you believe in but then leave the place questioning everything you just thought was set in stone. That being said, I was curious to see how soccer has changed and impacted Chloe’s life, so I asked her: What will she take away from soccer and bring with her to the “real” world? Chloe stated, “Some of the main things I will take away from being an athlete at Lawrence is how to coexist with and appreciate diverse perspectives, how to keep going when you’re down and that you can always push yourself a little further than you thought you could.”

Now, a fun fact about Chloe is that she did not start her soccer career until her junior year of college, making last season her first at Lawrence! Because Chloe did not have the standard four years of being an athlete, I thought it would be interesting to ask her to reflect about that decision. I asked her, if she could go back in time and join soccer earlier, would she have? Chloe said, “I absolutely would go back and play from my freshman year! Joining my junior year is the best decision I made during college and I would do it over again every time! I’ve made best friends I will have for the rest of my life and had some of the best times because I decided to join. There’s nothing like rediscovering the love of a sport you’ve been playing since you were a little girl.”

Now I turn to the other senior, Claire Vinopal, who also has been on the team for such a short period of time, this being her first season on the Women’s soccer team! I thought it was important to have her reflect on both her volleyball and soccer experience here at Lawrence, considering she played on the volleyball team from freshman through her junior year year. I asked Claire: How has athletics shaped you into who you are today? What did you gain or take away from volleyball vs. soccer? How do the two sports compare in your experience? Claire said, “Coming to Lawrence was pretty intimidating, everyone is always busy changing the world somehow, and it can be hard to find your place here; but luckily for me, I came to this school knowing my volleyball family was there for me. I have always received the support I needed from athletics, whether it was a personal issue or an academic one. Both volleyball and soccer have shown me who I can be as a leader, a friend and a teammate, and even though not all the things I learned I was pleased about, it helped me grow to be better. Volleyball gave me my first friends at Lawrence, it was my first safe space and a team I will always remember. Soccer on the other hand has given me the push I needed to take the next steps in my life. I learned how to look after myself and push myself through things I never thought I could. Soccer has been my home and my family these past few months; the love and passion each person has for each other and the sport on the team is unimaginable. Sports are sports and it is very hard to pick and choose which ones you play, but when it came down to it, for me, it was the team. It isn’t the ball you play with or the field you play on, it is the people that you can count on 24/7 to make you smile.”

Like for Chloe, this will be Claire’s final leg-of her journey as an Athlete at Lawrence, so I asked her what she will miss the most about being an athlete here, she said, “I am going to miss having 20 people I know I can go to anytime, anywhere for anything. This team has helped me grow so much, there aren’t words to describe how much they all mean to me.” I asked Claire what she will take away with her from what she learned from being an athlete. She said, “I have become more outgoing and have learned to stand up for myself. I feel I can carry myself better. I feel accomplished and I can say without hesitation I am a leader and I am proud of who I have become as a friend and a teammate.” To end this magical journey, I asked Claire what her favorite memory was, and she responded by saying, “It’s never the big wins or losses or the teams we play that I remember, but nights we spent in hotels after a long day of travel. We spent eighteen hours on a bus to Illinois College and Grinnell [College] this past year for soccer. I personally hate bus rides and usually want to kill everyone by the end. Well, this time we had just arrived in Grinnell after fifteen hours of travel and a long, cold game. All any of us wanted to do was shower and go to bed, but Coach Sagar thought otherwise. He told us to drop our bags in our room and change to do a pool recovery session. Mind you, it is 10 p.m. at this point, and I did not hear one complaint or excuse not to get in the pool. Everyone got their spandex on and trudged over to the pool area. To my surprise all my teammates were in the pool splashing around and giggling even before Joe came in. Now if you know, many people are not a fan of the pool and do not want to get their hair wet and make a hissy fit whenever they are forced to do so, but not this team. We made the best out of a long tiring day and rewarded ourselves with some team bonding in the pool. It just goes to show if you have a positive attitude, anything is possible.”

And like the swift movement of a hand closing a book, the air swished, blowing out a candle that was lit so many years ago; replaced with the bonds lighting the way toward the future.