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  • Matt Ondesko

Making her mark

by Matthew Ondesko, Managing Editor

Photos: Matt Hawley/University of Pittsburgh

The new trend in sports is to graduate early and enroll in college to start your athletic career. You hear it all the time when it comes to football players. They want to get on campus in January so they can get ready for spring ball a couple of months later.

By starting early, it allows a player to compete for a position, and not fall behind trying to learn the playbook during the fall.

What you don’t hear as much is that other athletes, in other sports, are doing the same thing. Why their season may not start until the fall, you are starting to see more and more soccer players graduate high school early and enroll in January.

This is allowing them to start the offseason program right away, and also allows them to get into the spring games. Freshmen are expected to contribute right away when they come into a program. There is no more redshirting for a lot of these programs.

Coaches are bringing in players to make a difference now. That puts added pressure on freshmen as they look to figure out how they should navigate their offseason. Enrolling early allows players to get the coaching they need right away.

University of Pittsburg freshman Emily Yaple knew that if she wanted a chance to make a difference on the Pitt soccer team this fall she needed to start right away. That’s why enrolling in January was important for her development.

It gave her an extra couple months to learn the type of system that Pitt plays, and it allowed the coaches to make sure Yaple was in the right position on the field.

“So far it’s been great,” said Yaple. “Randy and Ben have been really changing the program here. From the begging of January, I have noticed a huge change in my play, and also the other girls on the team. I think the progress we are making is going twice as fast with the coaches. So, it’s been really great, I am really happy with how things have been going.”

You would think someone that has done everything on the high school level would be able to just step right in and take the game over in college. After all,Yaple broke the scoring record in a season at Fort LeBoeuf with 50 goals in 16 games. She was also nominated to the 2019 High School All-American Watch List.

Her bio reads like a who’s who of accomplishments, but she is still a freshman. Yaple still needed to find her niche in the field. She was going up against the best of the best, and more physical competition.

But, Yaple has fit right in. She hasn’t looked like a freshman at all during the season - starting all 12 games in the midfield while adding two goals and assist. Playing the midfield is not an easy position to play at the lower levels.

Now, Yaple is manning the midfield in college against some of the best teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) - and holding her own.

“The college game is really fast, physical and requires a lot of mental preparation,” stated Yaple. “You really don’t know what it’s like until you get here. I think the biggest thing for me was using me teammates, coaches, nutritions and strength and conditioning coach. If you don’t use the resources, it’s extremely hard to compete at the highest level if you aren’t recovering like you should.”

Heading into college, Yaple knew that she just didn’t want to be another player on the team. She wanted to make a difference when she got to Pitt, and got on the pitch. That meant, at times, making some sacrifices that she never really though she would make.

The Erie, PA native wanted to play against some of the best competition during her travel season. While PA has good travel soccer, Yaple wanted more. She wanted to test herself. So Yaple, and her family, made the decision to travel up Buffalo, NY. to play, and train, with the Western New York Flash, the premier travel team in Western New York.

The Flash has sent a lot of young ladies to college to continue their soccer career. They play in the ECNL - one of the top leagues in the country. This is exactly what Yaple wanted. She wanted to train with some of the best players in WNY, and play against some of the best competition in country.

That meant making the one and half drive to Buffalo a couple of days week in all kinds of weather. That meant making the sacrifices at times to make sure she became the player that she is becoming during her freshman year at Pitt.

“The biggest part leaving for Flash was Aaron. He definitely will be one of the best coaches that I ever had. All my teammates knew that if you were coming to practice you were going to practice like you were playing in a game. He had almost every single player on the team committed to a Division I program. I think that just proves how good of a coach he ls. Without my teammates up there, I don’t think I would be the player that I am today. We all pushed each other to be the best that we can be. It was a very short time, but that short time was very valuable for my development as a player,” explained Yaple. “Doing homework in the car wasn’t easy, and I would probably come up three times a week. It was a huge sacafice for parents as well, but it was worth every minute of it. I think the training I got was something that was simply valuable. It was a high time commitment and a huge sacrifice for my social life as well, but it definitely got me to where I am right now.”

All that hard work paid off earlier this season when Yaple scored her first collegiate goal against Syracuse. It didn’t take long, either, as she did it in just her third collegiate game. All that hard work she put in during the offseason, and in high school, has finally paid off for Yaple.

“Well, I’ve scored a lot of overtime thrillers and game-winning goals in my career, but  it’s not the same feeling as when you score your first collegiate goal. It’s the first ACC game, and the score in the second half is 0-0, You are the reason that your team is up right now, It brought a spark to the team , and it just made me feel like a big part of it. I really accomplished something and I was happy to be abel to do that for my team.”


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