By Julia Ennis
I don’t know if I’ll ever get that sound out of my head.
With 15 seconds left, I took my final look around the field. From the scoreboard, to the field, to the bench, and to our fans, one final moment to take it all in before the gut-wrenching sound of the final whistle.
As an athlete, you know that moment is bound to come, but nothing truly prepares you for it. In a lot of ways, it felt exactly how I imagined it would. Teary eyed and a harsh realization that it’s all over. The hot summer days that were spent training to pass the fitness test, though I unfortunately never did, the long practices, the locker room that practically turned into a club before walking on the field and, of course, going into battle week after week with my team. The difference, and the part that I never saw coming, was the reason behind all of the emotions.
A few years ago, my father and I took a trip out to Long Island for what would be my final college showcase. I was verbally committed to another school, but had already signed up for the tournament so I decided to go. It was there that Frantzy Noze, our former assistant coach, stood alongside the field, in torrential rain, and recruited me.
He insisted that I at least come check out the campus before I made my final decision on where I’d begin my college career. Needless to say after coming to Plattsburgh, meeting the team and coaching staff and seeing the culture that existed here, my choice was clear.
The three years preceding that day in Long Island were nothing short of a dream come true. I could talk about every win, every loss and every memory made in between, but this year, my senior year, was like no other. This season, with this team, to put it simply, was special.
In late March, our team was called for an important team meeting. Upon hearing the news that our former head coach Tania Armellino, as well as Noze, would be leaving our program to pursue another coaching position at the University of Bridgeport, a sense of uncertainty sunk in. The vision I had in my mind of what my final season would look like got completely shaken. But as I looked around the table that day, I felt a sense of reassurance. I knew that if any group of people could handle a change this big, it was without a doubt, this team. In a text I sent out later that evening, I said:
“Tania [Armellino] and Frantzy [Noze] welcomed all of us into this program and guided us to the place we find ourselves today, and I am extremely thankful for them and everything they’ve done for us. In saying that, this team and our goals are not going anywhere. I have no doubt that this team is capable of not only winning a SUNYAC title, but building a new foundation for this program. No matter what, have each other’s backs, work hard, and focus on what we set out to do, and I have no doubt we will be successful.”
I said it, but the team embodied that message.
As we welcomed our new head coach, Whitney Frary, into our program we were determined to uphold the traditions we’ve set in the past while also opening ourselves to a new perspective — perhaps a new system of play and a new mindset toward what success truly means. Frary unlocked a sense of confidence in each player that stepped on the field everyday, and as a whole, she instilled a new level of trust in our program, our goals and in each other. She taught us that it doesn’t just take desire to win, it takes hard work, belief, and willingness to step outside of our comfort zone in order to be great.
This newfound coaching style was evident at countless different points of the season, whether it was junior Zoe Rice scoring an astounding 35-yard goal in one of her first games ever played here at Plattsburgh State, or senior Anna McDuffie scoring her first collegiate goal on Senior Day or senior Nicole Kingsley having the tenacity to score three goals this year after never scoring before. Incredible soccer moments like that not only define the beauty and specialness of the sport, but in our case, define our team’s unique strength, our depth. We bought into the idea that no matter when, no matter the opponent, any of the 19 players that lined our bench could step on the field and elevate the game. I believe that mindset will not only help this team continue to be great, but propel them to a new level of success that this program has never seen before.
On a personal note, this season was certainly filled with some challenges I never saw coming. After 17 years of a healthy career without any injury, besides a few ankle and shoulder tweaks here and there, a strained quad proved to be an obstacle that only time would be able to heal. It goes without saying, time is a valuable thing and probably the last thing I wanted to endure during my final season. But, as the season progressed it became more apparent I needed to fill a different role on the team. I knew I needed to put my individual goals and ambitions aside, and focus on being the teammate and captain that this team believed I could be. If I couldn’t be on the field playing, I made a commitment to being the voice and leader that any and everyone could look to at any given moment.
For so long I filled the role of starting goalkeeper, and that was an honor and certainly a privilege. But perhaps one of the most special things I have witnessed this season is the rise of sophomore goalkeeper Lauren Haley. Haley and I battled day in and day out and challenged each other to ensure that no matter who was stepping on the pitch. We would be ready to face any player that stood in front of us. Not only did she rise to the ultimate challenge of SUNYAC play, she did it with poise and confidence, and that can be hard to find in young goalkeepers, especially at this level. As I walk away from this team and specifically my position, I leave it in the hands, or gloves, of an individual who has proven to be a fierce competitor with a future that will undeniably be one for the record books.
So maybe that quarterfinal match didn’t go our way, and perhaps we didn’t achieve the goal of winning a SUNYAC Championship, but this team, and this season, meant so much more than a trophy ever could. In a letter I wrote to my mom and dad before Senior Day reflecting on my career, I said:
“From the start winning was everything, but as I’ve grown up, I’ve learned that isn’t why I play. Yes, championships are great, and winning is a goal, but when I look back on this career, I think of the teammates I’ve had the privilege to play alongside, the coaches I’ve learned countless lessons from and you my parents who have blessed me with the gift of this sport and didn’t doubt me for a second.”
Like I said, winning is a goal, but this career has meant so much more than any win could.
For my final thought, I would like to say thank you.
To my parents, for their endless support and the sacrifices made along the way to make sure my dreams became a reality.
To my coaches, from five years old to now, you’ve taught me lessons and given me tools to navigate life after sports, and I will forever be indebted to you for that.
To Plattsburgh State, thank you for allowing me to represent you for the past four years. Putting my jersey on and playing in front of our fans has been one of the greatest honors of my life.
To my fellow seniors and graduate students, what a ride it has been. Kieren Ritter, Allison Seidman, Kirsten Villemaire, Sam Spear, Anna McDuffie and Nicole Kingsley, your impact on this program and devotion to greatness has never gone unnoticed. It has been a pleasure to play alongside each and every one of you.
And lastly to my final team, words will never be able to describe the impact this season and each and everyone of you have had on my life. The enthusiasm, commitment to excellence, and overall passion for the game has been both an inspiration and a joy to be a part of.
The sky truly is the limit for this program, and I ask you to keep believing in that, each other, and every goal you set out to achieve. Commit to something every single day, and when it is your turn to hear that final whistle blow, I hope you’re able to say, “I left every field better than the way I found it,” because at the end of the day, that’s what matters most.
Julia Ennis is a senior goalkeeper on the women’s soccer team. This Op-Ed reflects her thoughts on her athletic career.