Sports

Freshman inspires team with resilience

Paige Rachel chooses Temple to honor her father.

Paige Rachel chooses Temple to honor her father.

 

John
Murrow

The Temple News

 

After losing a loved one and suffering a career-threatening injury in the same year, some people might have simply given up on a goal to play soccer. For Owls’ freshman midfielder Paige Rachel, she said giving up will never be an option.

Rachel began playing soccer when she was 5 years old. Rachel’s father was her first coach. She credits him with teaching her the game she loves.

While a freshman at Central High School in New Hampshire, Rachel’s father passed away in January 2008. Four months later in May, Rachel tore her ACL while at a soccer tournament in Connecticut.

“My mom went to all of my tournaments, but that was the one tournament she could not go to,” Rachel said. “When I told my mom I had torn my ACL, she drove straight to Connecticut. It was about a three-and-a-half-hour drive, but she made it in less than two hours.”

With two of the hardest times in Rachel’s life just four months apart, Rachel said she never felt that she could not come back from the injury.

“I said to myself, ‘What can I do?’” Rachel said. “My dad would have told me to do something.”

Two months after tearing her ACL, Rachel began her road to recovery in July 2008. After about a year of rehabilitation, Rachel was back on the field without any physical limitations.

“I knew I would come back stronger, both mentally and physically,” Rachel said. “If I could get through that, I could get through anything.”

In her sophomore year of high school, Rachel began to look at colleges. After numerous soccer showcases, Rachel was deemed a Division-I soccer talent. Rachel was considering schools like the University of Albany, Northeastern University and American University.

Along with the schools Rachel was already considering, Rachel’s mother asked her daughter to consider one last school, Temple, the same school that Rachel’s father had received his law degree from in 1985.

“During the recruiting process, we were able to build a relationship with [Rachel] and her family,” coach Matt Gwilliam said. “We knew right away that [Rachel] was going to be a great fit with our program.”

Rachel’s mother told her to choose a school based on education first. After visiting multiple schools, she decided to play for Temple.

In her first season with the Owls, Rachel played in each of the team’s 20 games, while starting 14 of those matches. Rachel tied for the team lead in goals with two. Leading all freshmen with 19 shots this year, 10 of which were on goal, Rachel also tied for second on the team with four points.

“The hardest part of adjusting to the college game has been playing with girls that are four years older and have more experience than I do,” Rachel said. “The other girls’ size, strength and techniques has also taken time to adjust to.”

Entering Temple as a freshman, Rachel didn’t expect to be an immediate impact player, she said. Rachel said she expected to do the dirty work and start at the bottom of the barrel, but with hard work and dedication, she turned out to be one of the Owls’ first-year impact players on offense.

“[Rachel] is definitely going to be a leader of this team,” senior midfielder Jourdan Brill said. “She is very strong on the ball, very smart on the field and she is going to be great throughout her four years at Temple.”

Along with the support and guidance she has received this year at Temple from Gwilliam and his coaching staff, Rachel said her high school club coach Dave Burgess acted as a father figure to her while she played under him.

“[Burgess] was always there to help me,” Rachel said. “He was one of the nicest coaches I have ever had and he was always willing to help.”

When Rachel began at Temple, Gwilliam said he started to use her as a target forward. He began to watch her as a midfielder, and with her size, pace, athleticism, strength and one of the best left foots he has seen, Rachel will fill in the shoes of the departing seniors at the end of the 2012 season, Gwilliam said.

“The future is very bright for [Rachel],” Gwilliam said. “Her growth and evolution has us excited. We talk about consistency a lot here and [Rachel] is a poster child for consistency. Every day we know what we are going to get from her. She is completely on board with making us better as a leader and as a player.”

While Rachel is becoming a leader on the field, many of her teammates and coaches will tell you that she is a shy and quiet person.

“[Rachel] was very shy at the beginning of the year,” Brill said. “Now, she is really opening up and getting to know the girls.”

Rachel said that she has not overcome her challenges without the help of her family. Her two brothers and her mother are the reason she is where she is today, Rachel said.

“My mom is more than a mom to me, she is also my best friend and my rock,” Rachel said.

Rachel said whenever she steps on the field, she feels comfortable knowing that her father is watching her play the game he first taught her.

“It makes me feel a sense of comfort that my dad once was here at Temple and I know that he’s watching me and all of my games,” Rachel said. “[My dad] would always say, ‘That’s my little girl.’ That will always be in my head.”

John Murrow can be reached at john.murrow@temple.edu or on Twitter@johnmurrow12.

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