By Amy Brakebill, a junior defender on the St. Mary's College of Maryland women's soccer team
When I turned in my high school soccer uniform for the last time, I truly believed it was the end of my soccer career. I never dreamed I could play collegiately, and I also wanted my academics to be top priority. Unlike many college athletes, my decision to attend St. Mary's was made without regard to the athletic options that were available. I loved the school and I could see myself going there. It wasn't until June, the summer before my freshman year, when I thought that maybe playing college soccer was worth a try. To be honest, I didn't know exactly what I was getting myself into. By that time, the head coach had already finished most of her recruiting. She'd never seen me play and she didn't have a clue who I was. Being a walk-on during tryouts was one of the scariest experiences of my life. Without any prior knowledge of my skill as a player, I had to prove myself in three days' worth of sessions. Furthermore, the level of play was far beyond anything I'd seen in my high school and even club experiences. Everyone was a star, and so I knew I had to find a way to shine above the rest.
Needless to say I was absolutely thrilled when I made the team. I never believed I could do it. What I didn't realize at the time however, was that my decision to play Division III soccer would be one of the best decisions I had ever made. One of the most gratifying and immediate benefits of being part of a team is the bond you share with your teammates. Whatever happens during practice or in games, you all experience together. The sprints, the early mornings, the late nights, the bus rides, the victories, the losses; they are all part of something that can only be understood and felt by your teammates. I have developed lasting friendships with girls on my team that would have taken months to develop if I hadn't chosen to play a sport. Another benefit to playing D-III sports is that academics are more important, if not more than being part of the team. When performance is expected both inside the classroom and on the field, it helps push you to reach your full potential. I also think in that regard, Division III athletes are something to be recognized. To be able to achieve success in both academics and athletics at the collegiate level is very impressive, and something to strive for. I think one of the things I truly love most about D-III sports is the level of skill and competition. So many people believe that Division III teams are far less skilled than Division I. In my three years of D-III soccer, I have never once believed that we couldn't take on a D-I team. We have the skill, the competition, and the grades. When you break it down, the label is what separates us.
Division III athletics have given me the opportunity of a lifetime. I've been able to continue playing the sport I love in an environment conducive to learning and growing. I was never recruited or sought after. I simply wanted to play. Division III gave me that chance; it gave me the opportunity to prove that I belonged on the team without having been offered any athletic scholarships. I've always believed that sports have a lot more to offer than just play. At the D-III level, sports become an environment that teaches you how to work hard in the classroom. It teaches you diligence, motivation, practice, preparation, healthy habits, and so much more. Without soccer, I'm not sure how my experience at St. Mary's would have been. I'm so glad I was able to be a part of something this important. I am proud to be a Division III athlete, and I am proud to wear that navy and gold uniform.