FREMONT – As a freshman, an athlete begins down a long tunnel which seems to go on endlessly with only the faintest of lights visible in the distance.
As seniors, however, that pinprick of light grows into an all-encompassing spotlight shining unrelentingly on the fact that the athlete’s career is nearly over.
For the five seniors on the Lady Giants soccer team — Kelby Bickley, Sophie Collison, Mackenzie Kidwell, Justine Michael and Jordan Relford — reminders of their days in the Fremont Ross uniform being numbered come on a daily basis.
Last week they celebrated Senior Night and Wednesday afternoon the Lady Giants hosted St. Ursula in the last home match of their careers.
“It’s weird because I’ve been around this sport my entire life,” Collison said. “I’ve been playing since I was about 4 years old. I don’t think I want to truly accept that it’s almost over. I’m burying it. I don’t want to think about. Every year when the season is over I think, ‘There is next year. Next year will be my year.’ I don’t have that anymore. I don’t get that luxury of saying ‘Next year is going to be my year.’”
Said Bickley: “It’s hard, because you go through your seasons and you know there will be an end to it, but you don’t know how fast it goes. It flew by.”
While the 2018 season may not have included as many wins as they might have liked — Wednesday’s loss to St. Ursula dropped the Lady Giants to 4-9-2 overall — the seniors not only kept the team’s spirits high, they provided a patient, nurturing environment for a team long on underclassmen and short on experience.
That was never more evident than Wednesday. In the face of a 15-0 loss to a powerful Arrows team, instead of packing it in and watching impatiently for the scoreboard to run out, Ross continued to play.
“They didn’t get their spirits down or anything. It says a lot about their character,” coach Phil Collison said. “I didn’t hear any pouting, or whining. There was no complaining. They kept working, all of them did. And they didn’t get discouraged and I think that speaks volumes about their leadership and character of the kids.”
Ross’ five seniors led a team with nine sophomores and six freshmen on its roster. With a team so young and learning as they go, the seniors kept the mood light throughout the season and refused to point fingers or get frustrated by their teammates’ mistakes.
“It’s been amazing,” Collison said. “It’s probably one of the first times that I’ve ever (coached) where there hasn’t even been expected moments of frustrations. None. From any of them. It’s amazing. When you talk about the quality you want in captains, these kids definitely have tons of it. Their parents have done a fantastic job with them. They’re a strong group of girls.”
Maintaining a drama-free atmosphere was a top priority for the seniors, who were determined to leave the program better than they found it, regardless of the wins and losses this season.
“In years past, we knew how it felt to get fingers pointed at us,” Michael said. “We saw the drama and we knew for a fact we didn’t want that, and we didn’t want to be mean to the younger ones. We want them to continue the program, so they can have fun.”
Sophie Collison said the contrast between their freshman and sophomore seasons, in which there was tensions on the team, and last year, where there was considerably less, showed the seniors drama didn’t have to be a part of the equation.
“We learned that the drama was not a good thing,” she said. “Some people just live off drama and love it and we don’t. This group of seniors, we hate it, we want to be friends, we want to be a family a true family that gets along.”
Perhaps no one has had a better view of the Lady Giants’ closeness more than Kidwell. The midfielder saw her season end with an ACL injury in just the team’s fourth game of the year.
Though she was forced to come to grips with her senior season ending much sooner than expected, it allowed her a chance to grow a stronger bond with the younger girls on the team as they sat together on the bench during matches.
“I’ve gotten way closer with the girls,” Kidwell said. “…I love all these girls on the team. Every one of them has an awesome personality. I can’t tell you one that isn’t excited to be here. There’s not one who (says) ‘I don’t want to come to soccer.’ We all love being around each other and love being in each other’s presence.”
While their time remaining as a team is growing short, it’s not over yet. The Lady Giants conclude their regular season Saturday at 3 p.m. at rival Sandusky. One last match against the Blue Streaks gives the seniors a shot to end their season on a high note.
“It’s nice we end with Sandusky,” Bickley said. “They’re one of our big rivals and we look forward to playing them. I’m excited for them.”
As if playing their rival in their last regular season game wasn’t enough motivation, the Lady Giant also want to send their coach out on top as well.
At age 54 and after 32 years of coaching, Phil Collison has decided this season will be his last.
“Looking back over the years, I figured for sure I would continue on for even longer,” he said. “I just think it’s time to turn the program over to (assistant coach) Josh (McAfee). He’s done a great job. It’s time for me to step back and do some other things.”
Bickley said the lessons she and her teammates have learned under Collison’s coaching went well beyond soccer.
“There are so many things I’ve learned from him. He’s been my coach since I was four,” Bickley said. “It’s so sad to know I have two more games left with him. He’s taught me so many things in life, like to be at practice on time and be prepared. I don’t know, it’s crazy to think that these are our last memories with him. He’s an amazing coach.”
Collison and his seniors will play in the sectional tournament next Wednesday when they travel to Anthony Wayne, ranked No. 7 in the state in Division I by the Ohio Scholastic Soccer Coaches Association.
Regardless of the scores Saturday against Sandusky or Anthony Wayne next week, Collison wants to see one thing from his girls in their finals games together.
“I’d like to see them continue to work hard, no matter what happens the rest of way,” he said. “That way they can say they gave it everything they had, no regrets and no worries. Just continue to work.”
One last lesson from the coach to his seniors.