A lifetime opportunity

It’s a cold, damp, night in October. You are headed on the bus with your team to Williamsville North High School to take part in the semifinals of the Section VI soccer playoffs.

You keep trying to tell yourself that the bus trip is the same as the 100’s of others you took throughout your high school and travel career. As you go through your pregame routine, you are trying to trick your mind that this is just another night – another game.

But, we all know, it’s not. This game is different. Maybe it’s because it’s the playoffs and its win over go home. All teams and players get a little bit more anxious when it’s a win or go home scenario.

Only you know why you are amped up just a little extra for this night. Only you know what will happen if your team fails to win the game. The chill in the air gets colder as the sun goes down behind the football stadium at Williamsville North.

It’s getting close to game time. You step off the bus and onto the field. You go through your pregame stretching and warm ups. The team looks ready. The girls look eager to pull the upset – after all know one gives you a shot to the huge upset.

As the game starts, Hamburg takes it to Grand Island early on – even coming up with some quality chances. The Bulldogs almost put one past the keeper, but the shot just goes wide.

As the first half goes on, Grand Island starts to take control of the midfield. They are firing shots at you left and right. You are doing your best to keep the team in it, but the Vikings are just too good. This team is loaded with Division I talent and it shows on the pitch.

As the game gets closer to the end, emotions start running through your head. You know what’s going to happen. That’s why this game is the toughest of your young career.

As the final horns sounds, the emotions of the season, and a career, are just too much to handle. You knew that this would probably be your final soccer game, ever. Injuries have taken a toll – including the hip injury you sustained early in the summer. The injury required surgery and forced you to miss a couple of games while you rehabbing.

“I was really excited for the game. I knew that my past four years playing for Hamburg paid off. It was an unreal experience. It was my best four years of high school that I ever played,” stated Hamburg High School goalkeeper Julia Whipple. “It was bitter sweet. I mean during the game it didn’t really occur to me that it could be the last time that I was playing soccer. Until the ref blew the whistle and I started packing my things up on the sideline that’s when I was like wow my career might be over. It was really emotional. I remember getting upset in the car with my parents. It was pretty hard.”

The funny thing about this young promising career coming to an end at age 18 is that you still had options. Earlier you recalled about how a Division II college wants you to play for them. A community college came calling as well – hoping that you would play for them.

So, you have options. But, your mind was made up. This was the final game of your career. After kicking a soccer ball for the first time at 3 years old, you were done. That chapter on your life has closed, and it was time to write a new book.

Applying to colleges had you excited to try and do something new. Getting out and meeting new people – doing the college thing – has you feeling good about yourself. You heard back from almost every school you applied to and got it. You were still waiting on a couple others – but they have a tendency to be slow.

It’s been months since you last played a competitive soccer game. You haven’t even put much thought into anymore.

But, your life was about to change and you didn’t even know it. Months go by and you get a call from a coach saying they want you to come down and discuss your future.

Again, going through the recruiting process, you have heard this story before. This was different, this was a Division I school. Out of the blue you went from a Division II prospect, to retiring from the sport, to now possible playing Division I soccer.

Of course you have to listen. Anyway that may offer you a chance to play Division I athletics while getting an education you are going to sit there and hear what they have to sit.

It was a surreal moment in your life, one that you probably never even thought was going to happen. Not many players can say they are retiring to earning a Division I chance.

Talk about flying under the radar.

“When I saw Shawn Burke’s name pop up on my phone I immedialty got excited, because I knew it was going to be something good. He asked if I was playing soccer and I said no. I told him I did get a few offers from LeMoyne and Daemen, but the schools didn’t really fit me well and I couldn’t see me going there. So, I told him I did end my soccer career, because I did loose the spark for it. I didn’t think it was getting me anywhere. I put so much work in for the past four years and it didn’t really get me where I wanted it too. It was disappointing, but worth it,” explained Whipple. “He said he was in need of a 2017 keeper and said that I was his first thought. He had a meeting with the ECC coach, Gary, and asked Gary do you have anyone we can take. Gary was one that said no I think you should take her (Julia). Definetly seeing that text on my phone definetly brought that spark back.”

Now, though, you have to get back in soccer shape. There is a difference of being in shape and being in soccer shape. Different muscles get used, it’s an entire different process.

Your mindset changes back to being a student-athlete once again and what that will entail. You know you can do it, you were a very successful one in high school. You aren’t worried about your hip either.

“It’s going to be a lot of work, but I am really motivated to get back to how it was a couple of months ago. I defenietly have to start working out. Getting down to Performance downtown,” stated Whipple. “I need to find a few club teams to play for. I’m not scared. I’m ready for the challenge. I’m a good leader. I take charge and do what I need to do.”

This break actually worked for you. It healed you up. Who knows you may redshirt your first year, which will give you a full couple of years of you getting back to your normal life.

“Definetely having more time off as helped me regain my strength. I think without the time off and I continued to play I probably would have hurt it more,” stated Whipple. “With the time off that I had it allowed to recooperate a little bit from the past four years of constantly traveling and playing.”

Now, you just can’t wait until August. No one wants to wish the summer away, but the anticipation is killing you. You can’t wait to get on campus and prove you belong on this team – a very successful team over the past couple of years.

“I think I am going to be really excited. I’m going to be really happy to start playing with Kara Daley again. And a lot of 2017 recruits that I am coming in with I have played with on ODP and bunch other travel teams,” stated Whipple. “I think it will be a little overwhelming just because of how big the school is, and how important this opportunity is. I’m going to feel a lot of pressure. I am one of two goalies on the team. I have a lot of proving myself to the team, I think, and especially to the coaches.”

Life has a funny way of working out sometimes. Back on a dreary October day you thought this was it – no more. Now you’re suiting up in college, ready to go.

“I do feel really accomplished. Being a goalkeeper is a really hard position. It’s very different that a midfielder, defender or forward. There is a lot of skill training that goes into it,” stated Whipple. “Your technique has to be perfect. Everything has to be perfect or the ball is in the back of the net, and that’s one of the hardest parts about being a goalie. So, I really do feel accomplished about what I have done over the past couple of years. I know I can play with them. I know I can compete against them.