When Sarah Fuller took the sphere a yr in the past for Vanderbilt’s soccer crew, the faculty senior took the world by storm, empowering ladies of all ages to do what many thought was inconceivable—break boundaries and make historical past.
In different phrases, play like a woman.
Very similar to that phrase that she positioned on the again of her helmet throughout her enjoying days for the Commodores, Fuller has since turn into an icon in ladies’s sports activities because the woman who stepped up when a crew wanted somebody.
Fuller grew to become the primary lady to play for a Energy 5 soccer crew when she kicked off for Vanderbilt on Nov. 28, 2020 in opposition to Missouri. Two weeks later she then grew to become the primary lady to attain in a Energy 5 sport with a pair of additional factors in opposition to Tennessee.
However earlier than there was soccer, there was soccer.
“I began enjoying soccer once I was 5,” Fuller says. “I began out as a midfielder, however my coach mentioned, ‘effectively you’re tall’, after which I performed goalkeeper. I assumed it was a punishment.”
The trail to turning into “Fuller the Placekicker” took a very long time. Fuller give up soccer for a yr when she was 12 as a result of she wasn’t having fun with being a keeper. After a yr off, Fuller got here again, met her goalkeeper coach, and was able to attempt once more.
“I believe the place suits my character,” Fuller says with fun. “I could be loud and run into individuals, it’s excellent.”
When Fuller was a sophomore in highschool, she began to significantly take into account extending her profession to varsity. To focus extra on soccer, Fuller stopped enjoying volleyball and joined an ECNL crew in Dallas known as the D’Feeters Kicks, and finally acquired known as as much as a nationwide crew camp.
“It was goalkeepers solely,” Fuller remembers. “There’s a image from it on the backside of my Instagram, and it is me, Casey Murphy is there, Laurel [Ivory], who’s at Virginia—all of those people who find themselves all nonetheless current and nonetheless superior at soccer at present.”
Fuller was getting seems to be from a pair Division II colleges, and finally Vandy got here alongside after seeing movie of her enjoying. It was a faculty she had by no means heard of, however Fuller’s dad and mom inspired her to have a look.
“My dad and mom instructed me to look it up as a result of it’s a nice college within the SEC,” Fuller says. “It’s proper in Nashville, and so we took a visit on the market, and it was all the pieces I might have requested for.”
It was that summer time when Fuller gave her verbal dedication to Vanderbilt.
Kicking has at all times been a ability the 6’2” goalkeeper possesses. Fuller might launch the ball 60 yards as a excessive schooler again in Wylie, Texas. By the point she was a freshman at Vanderbilt, Fuller was able to play, and extra excited than ever.
As a substitute of lacing up her cleats as a freshman, nevertheless, Fuller was sporting a solid—a damaged foot would sideline her and she or he noticed no enjoying time.
By the point she was a sophomore, Fuller was totally healed and helped to file a shutout within the one sport she performed for the Commodores that yr. However harm struck once more and Fuller ended up with an injured disk in her again.
Fuller, it will appear, was liable to harm. Her junior yr, the keeper ended up with a hairline fracture in her different foot. When she was lastly about to play on the sphere, she recorded her first begin and first solo shutout in opposition to Chattanooga.
Then the COVID-19 Pandemic hit and despatched everybody dwelling.
“I had been by hell and again,” Fuller says. “There have been a number of instances that I thought of quitting. I thought of transferring. I simply didn’t know if this was the extent I wanted to play at if I used to be simply getting damage on a regular basis. I had numerous days the place I might simply name my dad and mom crying.”
With the uncertainty of a season throughout the pandemic, Fuller nonetheless reported to preseason in July 2020. It grew to become clear that this was the time Fuller had been so patiently ready for: She noticed enjoying time in 12 video games with 8-3-0 file. Fuller had a string of shutout after shutout for over a month, and the Commodores would enter the SEC match because the seventh seed.
The Commodores rolled by the competitors. Fuller recorded an help on a objective within the quarterfinals in opposition to Tennessee, when she effortlessly rocketed the ball right down to the opposite finish of the sphere. Fuller and her teammates performed Arkansas within the finals, beating them 3–1 and bringing dwelling Vandy’s first ladies’s soccer SEC title since 1994.
“I’m actually glad I caught with it,” Fuller says. “I used to be capable of go on the market and do what I at all times believed I used to be able to. I’m that rather more pleased with profitable the championship throughout the pandemic as a result of it was so troublesome at instances, simply mentally actually powerful to do, however we acquired by it.”
The celebrations for Fuller solely lasted just a few days when she was requested to check out for the soccer crew, which desperately wanted a kicker. Vanderbilt doesn’t have a males’s soccer crew, leaving Fuller as one of many solely selections to fill the spot.
Her dad and mom had been driving again to their dwelling in Texas from Alabama, the place the SEC championship was held, when Fuller known as to inform them the information that she was going to check out for soccer.
Later that very same day, Fuller known as her father and he instructed her, “You already know this can be a massive deal, proper?”
And her father was proper. The goalkeeper-turned-placekicker did not flip across the winless Vanderbilt soccer crew. However she did have an awesome impact on these tuning in to observe historical past be made.
On the again of Fuller’s helmet was a plate that mentioned Play Like a Woman—a nod to the nonprofit group of the identical title that empowers women by sports activities and helps to propel them into male-dominated fields, reminiscent of STEM.
“That was just a few concept that got here to me,” Fuller remembers. “I form of pushed for it on the again of my helmet as a result of some guys had stuff on the again of their helmets that they had been supporting and I used to be like, ‘I need to try this.’”
Fuller mentioned that the timing couldn’t have been extra excellent, as she felt that she had a bunch of little moments that had been getting her on the proper path. After turning into a media sensation, Fuller mirrored on her time within the highlight, one thing she didn’t fully grasp when she lined up for that further level.
“I deal with it as a duty,” Fuller says. “I do know so many individuals are watching, and I need to do the proper factor. Persevering with to help ladies in any manner attainable is my massive factor. I nonetheless get individuals who inform me I’m an enormous inspiration or that I gave them the braveness to attempt soccer.”
Fuller is aware of in addition to anybody the long run is filled with limitless prospects—she talked about taking a shot at enjoying skilled soccer and discovering the trail that leads her down the proper highway.
For now, a yr later, after having time to course of the affect she has made for girls and women in sports activities, the previous placekicker is a graduate scholar on the College of North Texas. Fuller is again to enjoying keeper, the factor she loves probably the most.
“My coach has made it very clear that I might not be doing something soccer associated whereas I’m right here.”
Mackenzie Meaney is a contributor for GoodSport, a media firm devoted to elevating the visibility of ladies and women in sports activities.