Sacred Grass and Silver Linings

A Soccer All-American Cherishes An Extra Chance.

Female soccer player sitting in grass

I stood at the edge of Jeffrey Field last August. I looked left, then right, and breathed deeply, taking in a manicured expanse of grass that had become nearly sacred to me. I unlaced my cleats and took off my socks. I stepped onto the pitch that holds the blood, sweat, and tears of 27 resolute young women, feeling each blade of grass tickle my toes. In the center of the field, I sat down, reflecting on memories of triumph and defeat.

It was a moment of acute loss, though not one that showed up on the scoreboard. The unthinkable had just happened: Our 2020 fall season—my senior season—had been canceled due to the pandemic. I’ve never prepared harder for anything in my life or had bigger dreams for our team; in one awful Zoom session with our administrators, it was gone. Yet somehow, even as I sat in the middle of Jeffrey, awash in sadness, I felt an inexplicable peace, and hope.

Like all of us, I had faced adversity before that day last August, challenging times that brought uncertainty and fear and tested my character and my faith. Midway through my sophomore year, I decided to leave Boston College, a wonderful place where I was sure all my soccer dreams would come true. I took the biggest risk of my life to transfer to Penn State; I desperately needed to get out of my comfort zone. How would I fit in? Would my new teammates accept me? Would I find my way academically at such a huge university? More than a few friends and family thought I was crazy. Others simply didn’t understand. With one decision, I uprooted my entire student-athlete existence, leaving all I had known to go to a place I knew close to nothing about.

And then we lost our season. But in the months since, I’ve reflected on the positives that flowed from my decision to transfer. How it led me to the greatest place and people I’ve ever known. How it played a major role in fulfilling my dream of getting drafted to play professional soccer—never mind that I received the news in bed in my pajamas last January, quarantined due to virus exposure. How a long, frustrating fall full of daily testing, difficult conversations, and intense training would leave our team better, stronger, and closer than before. How playing a spring season wound up being a tremendous growth experience. And ultimately, how that day would lead to an unanticipated blessing: The NCAA’s decision to grant an additional year of eligibility means one more season, and 10 more games at Jeffrey Field this fall.

After all the trials we’ve been through, all the trepidation and anger I felt, things somehow seem better than they’ve ever been. It reminds me of one of life’s most enduring truths: that the pain we sometimes experience from the unexpected is nothing compared to the joy that comes because of it.

Sam Coffey, a first-team Academic All-American last season, was chosen 12th overall by Portland Thorns F.C. in the 2021 NWSL draft.