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A once in a lifetime experience for BHS senior
Veronica Saez has had an entertaining journey en route to her earning a full scholarship to Fairfield University.
The senior, a holding midfielder and co-captain for the Bainbridge High School girls soccer team, recently signed a letter of intent to play goalkeeper for the Division I school in Fairfield, Conn.
The position switch came about thanks to a “life-changing trip” that Saez never thought possible.
While she was visiting her grandparents in Chile during spring break last season, Saez was encouraged by her father, Jaime, to try out for the Chilean U-17 women’s national team.
Saez was eligible because her dad was born in Chile and lived there until he was 15, when he moved to the United States. He has dual citizenship as does Veronica. Jaime also had a friend in Seattle whose daughter plays for Chile’s U-20 women’s national team.
“I didn’t really get excited about [the opportunity] because it just seemed so random and out there,” she said.
Though she tried out for a midfield role, head coach Ronnie Radonich asked her if she would consider switching to goalkeeper, as she was the tallest member of the team at 5-10.
It was a position, however, that Saez had not played one minute at since she started soccer at 4 years old.
But she gave it a whirl, eventually making the team as a starter in goal.
To take part in the opportunity, Saez had to drop all her classes and live with her grandparents for the six months she was with the team as it prepared for the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Trinidad and Tobago in September.
Saez had to take online courses to make up for the classes she dropped, learn how to navigate the subway to and from the practice field, in addition to getting to know her new teammates and learning a new position. She also had to become fluent in Spanish, as well as deal with some teammates who were bitter that she was taking a spot on the team.
But she enjoyed the traveling to play several friendlies before the World Cup. She said another highlight was playing in front of 13,000 fans for the opening game between Chile and Trinidad and Tobago.
It was at the World Cup, however, that both Saez and Chile struggled. They failed to get out of the group stage as they lost all their games to Trinidad and Tobago, North Korea and Nigeria.
“I hate to lose,” she said. “I’m a huge competitor. Losing sucks. But the only good thing about it was I got to play a lot. It was an honor to play.”
Adding injury to insult, Saez suffered a painful sunburn and had to be treated in a hospital before going home.
Though she missed half of her final high school season due to the trip and not having 10 practices, Saez said she was still happy she made the choice to go.
“It was a wake-up call to what you can do if you set your mind to it,” Saez said. “It just feels so good that I did it.”
Despite the disappointment at the World Cup, Saez was still motivated to play in college.
She enlisted the help of Larry Judd from the Varsity Student Institute to get in touch with several colleges, one of them being Fairfield, a school that competes in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
Saez said the school was a perfect fit with all of her requirements and she liked the campus when she went on her official visit.
Coach Jim O’Brien liked what he saw of Saez in goal at the World Cup and wants her to play that position.
She’ll redshirt her freshman year and learn from Kelly Boudreau, an All-American who will become a goalkeeper coach for the team when she graduates next year.
Saez also said she hopes to continue working with the Chilean U-20 national team when she heads to college.
Through all her ups and downs with the trip, the main thing Saez said she has learned is to appreciate her family and friends and where she comes from.
“I know everyone wants to get away from this little island, but I think having a global experience is so nice. I know what I can be thankful for,” she said.
“I would have never gotten close with my family on my Dad’s side if I had not gone.”