College soccer experience priceless for MCS grad

By John Bernhardt
For New Kingston native Erica Faulkner, there was no such thing as an athletic challenge she was afraid to meet. If it was manning the shortstop position on an otherwise all boys American Legion baseball team, battling for rebounds around the basket against much taller opponents or patrolling the middle of the soccer field, no challenge was too big for the three-sport Margaretville Central School sport’s star to tackle.
Faulkner’s competitive drive and passion for playing sports hit a roadblock last fall after graduating from SUNY Cobleskill and transferring to SUNY Cortland to continue her pursuit of a business economics degree. After starting as the center midfielder for two years at Cobleskill, Faulkner hoped to continue her soccer playing days at Cortland. It was not to be.
One of 10 walk-ons invited to try out for the Cortland team, Faulkner barely got a look before she was served notice she had not made the squad. Mixed in with the nearly two-dozen girls already on the squad, the 10 ‘newbies’ got just two hours in a single practice to prove they had the right stuff. Faulkner and one other girl were invited back for a second look, Faulkner’s last taste of intercollegiate soccer.
Even so, Faulkner has few regrets. As she prepares to begin her senior year in college, Faulkner encourages high school athletes hoping to someday continue their playing days in college to give it a shot. She also cautions them to rethink how they approach the way they practice and prepare for high school competition.
“Playing soccer in college was a whole new world,” noted Faulkner. “For the first time, I had to compete for a spot on the field instead of it just being handed to me. Every practice was intense. You couldn’t take anything for granted. In high school if you slipped up in practice you’d laugh about it. In college you might lose your spot. Your practice behavior had to be far more serious because that’s where you test your skills to get ready for game competition.”

Earned starting position
Faulkner cracked the starting lineup as a center midfielder in her freshman year playing every game of a nearly 20-game schedule in both years at Cobleskill. Her Fighting Tiger team faced a steep uphill climb of their own. A recent move from the National Junior College Athletic Association to NCAA’s Division III, meant the Fighting Tigers, with most of their students in two-year programs, were pitted competitively against four-year Division III schools.
But, soccer wasn’t all about wins and losses for Faulkner. In head coach Diane Niland, a former Division I coach at the University of Evansville, Faulkner found a fountain of soccer knowledge that really helped improve her game. “Coach taught me some of the most simple techniques that were the most effective and make a world of difference in my game,” explained Faulkner.
Faulkner also identifies huge social benefits in playing a sport in college. Admittedly shy and somewhat nervous about her move from Margaretville to Cobleskill, the women’s soccer team provided a foundation around which to begin to build a social network. It was on the soccer field Faulkner that worked cooperatively with, instead of against, Davenport’s Becca Hotaling and where she made lasting friendships. “You build a social platform with the girls on the soccer team and then go from there. You just build,” said Faulkner. My best friend in the world is a girl who played on that team.”

Time management
Although playing a sport in college is time consuming and required a juggling act balancing time between academic and athletic commitments, Faulkner feels playing on the soccer team provided much needed focus. “My grades were always better during a sport semester. Playing sports forced me to manage my time better,” she added.
Acute disappointment from failing to make the cut on the Cortland team last year drove Faulkner away from soccer for a year. That break was purely temporary. This fall, when she returns to Cortland, Faulkner plans to try out for the woman’s traveling club soccer team. That, too, is a team with more interested girls than available spots, so there are no guarantees. But, for Faulkner, the chance to play soccer competitively again is worth the risk.