The hunger inside
by Matthew Ondesko, Managing Editor
Photos: Indiana Wesleyan Athletics
There is a learning curve when you leave high school and make the journey into college. The classes are different, people are different. Everything is just……different.
When it comes to an athletic career, those too can be different. In high school, an athlete might be used to starting all the time. They are the key cog to a team that is looking to win a championship. They never leave the field, playing all the minutes of every game.
When they make the jump to college things are just different. They might not be a starter right away. They have to earn their minutes, which might take some getting used to. Going from a starter in high school to a part-time player in college is never easy.
That was something that former Williamsville East High School soccer standout Mikayla Crofford had to learn when she made the transition from high school to college. In high school, Crofford was leaned on heavily as one of the go to players on a very talented WIlliamsville East squad.
When she stepped on to the campus of Indiana Wesleyan she was just another player trying to find her role within in the team. She went from playing all the time to fighting for every minute on the pitch.
It was a humbling experience at first.
“The hardest thing for me going into my freshman year was realizing that everyone was one of the the best on their high school team,” stated Crofford. “To go from a lot of playing time to having to compete in every practice for even a couple minutes in a game was very humbling. It is for sure what I needed to drive me and show me that good things will come if I never stop working.”
It’s not like Crofford didn’t play as a freshman. She was able to get into 12 games during her first season with Indiana Wesleyan. That was a springboard to getting more playing time last season.
Even though her freshman year may have not gone the way she had hoped for, Crofford still was able to get some valuable time. She learned what it takes to be able to play, and compete, at the college level.
That allowed her to appear in 20 games last season, and get the development that she wanted, and needed.
“I got into 12 games my freshman year and 20 my sophomore year. My freshman year playing time came later in the season after a couple months of hard work in practice. Sophomore year was good year development wise,” stated Crofford. “I felt like my skill significantly got better compared to freshman year. In my first two years, every minute of playing made me want to play more and more.”
She will get her chance as they season just gets underway. While most of the country has cancelled fall sports, Indiana Wesleyan is not one of them. Their season gets underway today with a road trip to IU Kokomo.
As a junior, Crofford has worked for this opportunity. She has worked on her game, and improved over the past two years - and this summer. Not seeing the field a lot early in her career has made her even hungrier for a chance to prove herself at this level.
She is ready to step into a defense and help them achieve big things this season.
“I made a lot of improvements to my game my sophomore year and knew what I had to do going into my junior year to get the minutes I am wanting. As a team, because we did so well, we are all hungry for more,” stated Crofford. “We are proud of being (ranked) seventh in the nation and we know that we are so blessed to even be able to compete at that level, but we are all not content with seventh. We have made it a goal to not let the “expectations” get to big and just play the game that we all love. Last season has created an environment where we push each other in practice and we do not become complacent.”
Crofford is ready for the opportunity that is being given to hear. She was a solid defender in high school for a Flames team that had sky high expectations every single season. During her time as a part-time role player her first two years, Crofford was able to study the game more.
She saw the game form a different perspective. Being on the bench allowed her to be almost like a coach. She could see how the other team set up their offense - and how they liked to use the counter attack.
She would ask herself questions on how she would defend on that play. Or what she would have done differently if she was in the game. It allowed her to strengthen her game mentally - and to be able to think through the game a little more.
“When on the bench, I like to look at my position and who is playing in it. I ask questions to myself “okay what could I have done better, what is working, what is my teammate doing that I should do when I go back on?,” stated Crofford. “I also look at the other team and specific players that I am going up against. What are their strengths and weaknesses and what can I do to beat them in every battle? Another thing to observe is who I can encourage. Sometimes players just have off days and someone encouraging them can turn their game around.”
Younger players coming through the system can use Crofford as an example of not getting down on themselves - and just working hard. As an underclassman Crofford was just trying to find her way.
Now it’s her time to lead. She is ready to step up for a team that is ranked high in the country. A team that is coming off a run to the Nationals in Orange Beach, Alabama just last season. Crofford knows she can easily lead by example.
Others on the team has seen the drive that she has. Going from barely getting her minutes freshman year to where she is now. She has worked hard - and has never given up. But, she also knows that being a leader also means trusting your teammates around you.
“My coach always says that leadership is strengthened as relationships are strengthened. As I become an upperclassman, it is my job to lead by example. Another thing to remember as a leader is that we do not have to do it by ourselves. When it gets hard to lead, lean into your teammates,” stated Crofford. “I believe that if a leader does not have the trust of their team, they will not lead well. For my junior year I will be focusing on continuing to form closer and deeper relationships with those on my team and lead by example.”
Some players may have given up after their first couple of years. When they going gets tough, players transfer instead of sticking out and working hard to earn their spot. That’s the new age of college sports. If I’m not going to play right away, I will find a place to play.
Crofford could have done that. She could have gotten frustrated with herself after her freshman year. She could have easily transferred and gone somewhere where she was going to get the playing time that she wanted.
But, instead, Crofford used the last two years as growth for herself. Not for her game, we all know she can play at a very high level. She used it as growth for herself as a person. She knew that soccer was always going to be there. She needed go through the adversity of the first coupe of seasons to help her grow as a person.
Running away would have been the easy part. Fighting through the adversity made Crofford even stronger.
“These first two years have been major growth years. I learned that situations are made to grow you and teach you things. I learned that when I pay attention, every challenge is meant to grow you and make you stronger,” stated Crofford. “I have also learned to lean into those you trust and to work for something bigger than yourself. I also learned that soccer is way more than just a game; it’s a platform.”