‘Ten’acious tenure — Vandal soccer seniors celebrate their last home match
For the final time in their collegiate careers Sunday, 10 girls will step on the pitch together as Vandals in front of a home crowd.
From goalkeeper to forward, the seniors on the Idaho soccer team occupy positions vital to the side’s success both on and off the pitch.
Though they may have come from different backgrounds and will move on to live different lives, these Vandals will all be able to tell the same story of soccer success.
Some of the names and faces are familiar to even the casual fan, while others have struggled to find playing time at Idaho. Three girls have started every match since joining the program, while one is a fifth-year player recovering from a broken leg last season.
Liz Boyden, a senior goalkeeper from Spokane, didn’t join the Vandals in the same class as the other players — instead she came the season before. Her plans to finish her Idaho career last season were quickly derailed when she suffered a broken leg in the third match of the year. For Boyden, this led to her taking a medical redshirt and returning this year.
Boyden said it wasn’t until this season that she really felt connected with a group of teammates, “The Wolf Pack,” as they call themselves.
“I was never really close to “The Wolf Pack” until this year because usually classes are closer with each other, however they kind of took me under their wing this year since I was the lone fifth-year senior and it’s been great — I feel like part of a family,” Boyden said.
If this group is indeed a wolf pack, then forward Chelsea Small may just be their leader. Since stepping on the pitch at Guy Wicks Field as a freshman, Small — along with fellow seniors Megan Lopez and Jill Flockhart — has started all 80 matches the Vandals have played.
Small, Idaho’s career leader in goals scored, said it doesn’t matter how often the girls have played in a match or in practice together, they are always going to be best friends.
“I’ve just learned how to be a really good friend. These girls are my best friends, they treat me like the world and have shown me what a great friend is like,” Small said. “They’re the type of friends I’ll talk with the rest of my life and I really didn’t expect to find 10 and even more of those type of people coming to college.”
Although all of the girls have had four years to create the bond they have now, some brought a friendship with them to Idaho. Spokane natives Boyden, Lauren Layton and Erica Hart grew-up playing with and against each other. The same could be said for defenders Christine Leathem and Cassandra San, who played with one another in the Vancouver, B.C., region.
Leathem said one of the more special moments she expects to come from Sunday is a visit from her father, who is making the trip down for Senior Day.
“It’s really exciting. My dad hasn’t come to a lot of games because it’s so far,” Leathem said. “He saw me play all through club, but hasn’t seen me play through university, especially where I’m playing at a different position so it’ll probably be different for him, but I think he’s excited and I’m really excited too.”
With different players moving in and out of the program, winning and losing seasons, one thing has stayed consistent for this group of seniors — the leadership of coach Pete Showler.
Boyden said the line is blurred between paying for and being friends with Showler.
“Pete and I, there’s a friend level and a coach level so it’s so easy to talk to him,” Boyden said. “He’s always open, he has an open door policy and I’ve never been afraid to just go in and talk to him about anything. I feel like he takes whatever I have to say to heart, and that means a lot to me.”
With only two matches remaining in the regular season for Idaho, one victory is needed to secure a place in the WAC Tournament, which takes place Nov. 1-4 in Logan, Utah. Idaho’s first shot will be at 3 p.m. Friday at Guy Wicks Field as they take on undefeated No. 28 Denver before facing last-place New Mexico State at 1 p.m. Sunday.
Small said that she is viewing this weekend’s home-stand as both a challenge and a celebration for the seniors who know that work needs to be done to secure a tournament berth, but she is excited to be fighting for that spot in front of their own fans — fans she’ll miss as her college career winds down.
“I’m going to miss the excitement. Our fans here all getting ready together, being at our field and knowing that we have a big game. Knowing that we’re going to perform and take home a big win,” Small said.
Walking onto the field for the first time as a freshman to leaving it for the last time as a senior is a full circle experience, according to Leathem, who said that it is not only her skill but passion that has improved in her time at Idaho.
“I’ve definitely grown as a player. I’ve learned so much from the team and Pete. I’ve become more open with people and more patient,” Leathem said. “I’ve just re-found the love for the game.”
Madison McCord can be reached at email@example.com