A handful of Morehead State soccer athletes took advantage of an incredible opportunity to train alongside and play against some of the best collegiate soccer players in the nation with summer league teams this year.
MSUEagles.com sat down with juniors Katie Kiolbassa and Katie Quinn and senior Ellie Weber, who all suited up for the Indy (Indianapolis, Ind.) Saints FC, and junior Caitlyn Burdine, who played for the Beaufort (S.C.) County FC. They share their experiences in a narrative called "In their Own Words."
Quinn, a midfielder from Kent, Ohio, had two assists for the Saints. What was her takeaway from her summer experience?
"I really enjoyed it, I got a lot of touches on the ball, I got to play a lot. I really liked our coaching staff, I got to meet a lot of new girls. We are going to end up playing (against) a bunch of those girls in the fall so it was good to just watch what they do and see how they play. It was a really good experience."
She also believes her training will lead to a great season in 2019 with the Eagles.
"It made me really grateful for my team just in the sense that there's a lot more accountability when I get back here and that when we get here we hold each other to a standard that I can't always hold people to in a summer league, so it just made me want to work harder in a sense that I'm going to get back here and I know that everyone is going to be really jazzed to be here. The summer experience was just a lot of touches on the ball and made me want to get back here even more because I can't wait to transition this and put it on the field for my team."
Playing alongside her MSU teammates Kiolbassa and Weber (and also junior midfielder Holly Logsdon) was an unforgettable experience too.
"I had a few Morehead State girls on the team, there was like four of us there altogether, so it was nice because they pushed me because they know how you can play. But you're also with newer girls, and you have to prove yourself and earn your spot and you have to prove yourself to the coaches so that just reminded me that even if you're an upperclassman you still have to earn your spot and work for it."
Kiolbassa, a midfielder from Hoffman Estates, Ill., shared Quinn's sentiments and wa happy to be in her second summer campaign with the Saints.
"I actually played with them last summer as well so I knew the coaching staff pretty well. So I just stayed in touch with them throughout the year and knew that would be a good option for me to come back to this summer so I really wanted to do that and it was closer to home for me. But it was just a good experience all around, living with a few of my teammates here from Morehead State and then one other girl from a different place. It was still nice to see how other people do things with soccer and how they work and the things that they do to see something different than what we do here in Morehead. Practicing with new people is also really helpful because we get so used to practicing with each other that we know how we play, we know how each other's moves and everything that it's nice to get a little change because it makes us work harder so we can figure out other people and get good practice out of it."
So how was the competition level? Kiolbassa believes it was top notch.
"We had pretty good competition in our conference. We played teams from Wisconsin, Indiana, and Chicago, so a lot of the competition was really spread out, but it was also really good. We played the Chicago Red Stars Reserves team and they had very talented players on their team so it was really helpful to play against people who are so good and so talented because it makes you a better player yourself. I think having that competition, even if our team might have lost a game or something, we still got to see great competition and still had a good game out of it and still got to play against good people."
Weber, a Hilliard, Ohio native and midfielder who transferred to the Eagles from Oakland last year, said just because the Saints didn't win every match, she wouldn't trade the opportunity for anything else - especially the chance to network in the soccer world.
"It was honestly a really good experience for me. I did like having my teammates there with me because it made me feel more comfortable and confident. But I was also able to meet new people, I definitely have lifelong friends from training with these different people. I was actually on the Indy Saints team last year, which was the first year they were a club and it was me, Holly Logsdon, and Katie Kiolbassa who were on the team last year so we were already to have our connections with the coaches and a good relationship with them. It made it easier coming back to that too because we kind of already knew what we were getting ourselves into and were used to the atmosphere. Going into last year I really had no idea what summer ball was going to be like because I had never done anything like that before. It was a really good experience. Our record wasn't the best either years but I had so much fun playing the whole time. The thing that was nice was I played all 90 minutes of every game so I got into really good shape while playing. There was one point where we had five games in eight days so that was really hard on our body, but I knew it was going to be worth it in the end because we were getting better from that.”
Burdine, a Frankfort, Ky., product who teamed up with fellow Eagle Lauryn Kunz this year in South Carolina, said her summer experience this year was quite a bit better than 2018.
"So last year I played in Seattle and didn't have the greatest experience so I talked to Dani Wilson, one of the seniors that graduated last year, and she went to Hilton Head and had a good experience. So I was like I'll try it out, it's on the beach, they practice every morning from 8:30 to 10:30 and play games on the weekends and so I'm going to go and try it out and I loved it. I feel like I came back in such good shape. I met so many awesome girls, and I played a full 90 minutes which I hadn't done since probably high school. That made me more confident. It was just really good. It was uncomfortable at first which pushed me and made me stronger because you're living with new people, I only knew Lauryn, so I had to meet 15 new girls. I loved it so much that I'm going back next year for sure. I think it made me a better player. I think I'm stronger and more confident."
Burdine also noted that the level of competition in the WPSL was second-to-none.
"In one of our games at Asheville (N.C.) City there were more than 1,500 people there. It was the most people I've ever played in front of, and the atmosphere was insane because it felt as if you were on a professional team. The way that Asheville treats the summer soccer is like that of professional soccer. They have their own brewery, it was crazy and that was cool. A girl who played for Asheville was like SEC Player of the Year or a big accolade from Florida. We had a girl on our team who's going to Vanderbilt that was younger, and she was super good."
All four agreed that their chance to play in summer leagues is something that will boost recruiting here at Morehead State. Weber put it into words.
"I think it will be really good for the future of the program because I already feel that I've gotten so much better. I think with summer ball too, you just feel so much more confident because it's more for fun. So I'm able to do whatever I want, and if I mess up it's no big deal and I can try new things and it really helps build up my confidence and I can bring that back here and use that in our games. Another thing I know too, we played the Chicago Red Stars reserves and there were players that were on the actual team like (U.S. Women's National Team member) Julie Ertz who was from there. So we can potentially be playing people who could be on TV someday. We didn't do very well against them but we held our own at times which proves we have the opportunity to be great."
Morehead State's team will report back to campus in August, readying for the 2019 season. It opens with a home exhibition against Marshall on Aug. 15. The regular-season opener is at home too, against Butler on Aug. 22.