By Gabby Alfveby
Ana Whitehouse never thought the dream of playing soccer collegiately was in her reach.
“At first, I always just thought it wasn’t a possibility for me to go to college [for soccer],” Whitehouse said. “I wouldn’t be able to try it or I wouldn’t be able to compete at all. And I just didn’t think I was capable of doing that.”
It’s the fear for every walk-on athlete trying to achieve the dream of playing the sport they love at the next level. But for Whitehouse, a freshman midfielder, it was something she achieved with less experience than everyone else.
Whitehouse started hanging out with a friend who also enjoyed playing soccer the summer before her senior year of high school who opened her eyes to the possibility of her being able to live out her dream of continuing her soccer career at a collegiate level.
“The people around me started saying my junior year, ‘why don’t you focus?’ Or ‘do you want to go play somewhere?’,” Whitehouse said. She would always respond with, “I wish I could. I just don’t think I am capable. But then more and more people started saying it and then when he [her friend she played with] said it and I was practicing every day, it kind of just gave me that extra confidence to be like, okay, maybe I can.”
Whitehouse grew up locally in Saint Augustine Beach and graduated from St. Joseph Academy where she was a multisport athlete. She participated in cross country, soccer, track, and lacrosse. Whitehouse chose soccer because she fell in love with the sport.
Whitehouse decided she wanted play soccer in college after having a successful junior year season and realizing she loved the sport more than all the other sports she played.
Whitehouse tried out for a club team called Ancient City Soccer, to gain more competitive experience in the sport.
She never got the same experience that most soccer players get. Most soccer players start playing competitively on club teams at a young age which puts Whitehouse at a disadvantage.
“Yes, I played club that year before, but it was still not a serious and very intense situation. I still wasn’t immersed in the whole club experience or being part of a really connected team” Whitehouse said. “And so I feel like the freshmen kind of still just knew how to approach their position in that group, but I was just very overwhelmed because I had never experienced it.”
She decided to reach out to the Flagler College Women’s soccer coaching staff and give it a chance. Whitehouse approached and tackled the walk-on process alone.
“I reached out, I sent an email, basically I just wanted to talk to him in person and ask what does your situation look like? Would I possibly be able to play or mostly what do you think? Do you think that I am capable of playing? It was an advice sort of thing,” Whitehouse said. “I went and talked to them by myself and they really liked everything I had to say.”
Whitehouse wanted to play for Flagler specifically because it was not only familiar to her but she had trust in the coaching staff.
“I reached out to the first school that I knew and I watched Flagler growing up, in small cases because I was always so busy, but I still knew they were around and I watched them. So it still felt more personal. And then also they’re a good team,” Whitehouse said. “So those coaches and knowing that they were good and they knew how to build a program, so I reached out to ask them that, but obviously in hopes that maybe I could try out for the team.”
After meeting with the coaching staff, the assistant coach of Flagler’s women’s soccer team came and watched Whitehouse at one of her high school games.
So the assistant coach came to my game, which was not a good game for me because I knew he was going and it makes me super nervous. And so I did not do very good,” Whitehouse said. “When he came to the game and saw the level that I was playing at, it obviously concerned them because it was so low, but they saw some things that I did. They were like, okay, yeah, let’s see what she can do.”
After seeing Whitehouse play in her high school game they wanted to see if she could compete at a collegiate level so they invited her to practice with the team.
“They basically said they wanted to see me compete against their players because you can watch someone play against people that are inexperienced and then you’ll obviously I’ll stand out, but how would I compete against the collegiate athletes?” Whitehouse said.
Whitehouse practiced with the team and competed on the coaches’ team vs. the players in an 11 v 11 match. She became more comfortable with the girls and they were welcoming.
After the practice has ended they pulled her aside to discuss her performance.
“From the beginning they said, I’m going to be completely honest with you because why would they lie?,” Whitehouse said. “When they said that, I was so happy. I was like, I do just want you to be honest. I literally came here for just advice, if not a spot,” Whitehouse said. “they were like, we know your story and we know that technically it’s going to be different for you and it’s going to be a huge adjustment, a big learning curve for you to just jump straight into this level of play. But from what we see, we think that you could do it. We think that you could compete, and if we didn’t, then we wouldn’t have you on the team.”
They couldn’t offer Whitehouse money but they did offer her a walk-on postion. Whitehouse didn’t care about the money though she cared that she got to continue to play the sport she loves at the next level.
When Whitehouse was accepted onto the team she felt relieved and gained more confidence about her abilities but now she had new added pressures that came with earning her position on the team.
“It was a sign of relief because okay, yes, I have a spot on the team. It’s like, well, I’ve basically been dreaming of this kind of thing,” Whitehouse said. “And then it was also stressful because it’s like, but what can I do next? What do I have to do next? And what’s it going to be like?”
Whitehouse was confident during her walk-on process even though she had some fears and felt intimated. Whitehouse had fears of not fitting in with the team.
“It’s still intimidating because no matter how nice they are, it still just feels weird to put yourself in a situation where you don’t feel like you fit. So even new freshmen, they’re new too, but in a sense, they also were playing club their whole life. So they’re used to this competition and they’re used to what it’s like to have a close-knit team like that,” Whitehouse said.
Whitehouse’s fears of not fitting in leads her to compare herself to others especially as the shortest player on the team.
“I constantly compare myself to the way that they’re playing, which makes it more stressful because then I’m like, I just feel like I don’t fit in on the field and off the field,” Whitehouse said.
Whitehouse appreciated the honesty that the coaching staff has at Flagler College.
“I went into a meeting and I talked to them and they were very honest with me from the beginning.” And I’m actually really lucky in my recruiting process. A lot of people have really bad experiences with different coaches, it’s just not easy, it’s very difficult and I’m so lucky,” Whitehouse said.
Whitehouse has big goals this season and is ready to take on the challenges that she may face.
“I want to reach my expectation that I have for myself to do what I think I could do when I’m playing soccer, to keep training and to just get better every day and to wear a point where I can compete if not do better than other people. You just want to be better. You want to be the best out there, obviously. And so I think just for me to, I just want to work really hard to a level that I’m even with everyone,” Whitehouse said. “I know I can compete with them, but how can I do better in a way or have my own style, find my own rhythm of the game?”
Although Whitehouse is an underdog she has courage, passion and drive for the sport of soccer.
“I knew that I’m behind, but I still have faith in myself and I know that if they have faith in me that I can get there and I just have to keep working, which is actually honestly better for me because I work well knowing that or pushing myself, motivation, not playing, stuff like that pushes me to just want to do better,” Whitehouse said.