The End of the Soccer Line for Rachel Sawyer
Rachel Sawyer (#18) of the Northbridge Rams is a force to be reckoned with on the soccer field.
By Christopher Tremblay, Staff Sports writer
Northbridge’s Rachel Sawyer has been playing soccer since the age of five when her parents decided to sign her up to play youth soccer for the town. Now some 13 years later the Northbridge athlete has decided that this, her senior season, will most likely be her last on the soccer field.
“I have always been a competitive person and played other sports throughout my life, but it was soccer that just seemed to stick with me,” the Ram’s senior said. “During my junior year I realized that I was not planning on seeking out soccer on the collegiate level, as I plan on becoming a nurse and soccer wouldn’t fit into my schedule.”
Sawyer did leave the door slightly open, saying that if things did work out at college and she had the time she may at some point try walking onto the team, but doesn’t really see that happening. She felt that her college education was far more important than playing another four years of soccer.
In addition to calling this year her last, the Northbridge native also decided to stop playing club soccer for NEFC Girls Academy, which she has done for quite some time.
“Prior to this season I dropped club soccer so that I could focus on my academics while still being able to enjoy my senior year,” Sawyer said. “I plan on playing basketball this winter as it was a sport that I enjoyed playing as a kid and missed it. I want to give it one more shot during my last year at Northbridge and have fun doing so.”
It was sometime during the seventh or eighth grade while playing for NEFC that she developed a knack for the sport and found herself playing at a high level. Although her freshman year was not your typical season due to the Covid pandemic, Sawyer was somewhat nervous trying out for the squad. Finding herself much younger than most of the girls on the field, she knew that she had to work twice as hard to prove herself.
As a freshman she played midfield for the varsity team, despite playing center-back while growing up.
“I definitely enjoy playing defense; that’s where my biggest strengths are. However, I do like to play forward and attack occasionally,” she said. “Freshman year was different, there was no tournament that year, due to Covid. Overall, it was not an amazing year, but it was not a horrible year either.”
While one of the younger athletes to take the field for the varsity team, Sawyer found herself getting used to the game at this level and trying to find her place on the team. Playing in her sophomore campaign she felt that she made a huge jump as she was more committed to the other girls and felt very comfortable around them, which translated to success. She was also back to ‘her’ position at center-back.
“My skills improved, I got stronger, faster and found myself more passionate and dedicated to the game,” Sawyer recalled.
During her junior season Northbridge posted a 13-3-2 regular season record and made an impressive run through the Division 4 State Tournament. As the number two seed, the Rams dominated Nantucket, Leicester and Manchester Essex and were able to edge out Littleton to earn their spot in the State Championship match. However, Cohasset (the number one seed) shut the Rams out to deny Northbridge a state title.
“Rachel is a quick, aggressive player that will slide tackle you cleanly in the 18-yard box and not think twice about it,” Northbridge Coach Kristin Strazzulla said. “She is a tough gritty individual that played every minute of all of our playoff games. She’s clutch!”
With all her hard work the then junior was named a Central Mass All Star as well as an All State All Star, something that came as a total surprise to the junior center-back.
“When the coach told me (about the All-Star status) I was excited, but I was also very much in shock. I knew that there were a bunch of girls in the state who deserved this honor,” she said. It was truly a confidence booster for me as it validated everything that I had been working for all season long.”
As she entered her final season playing soccer for Northbridge Sawyer found that she would be doing so as a tri-captain. Here the senior is hoping that she can keep her teammates motivated to improve upon last year’s success. Having a younger team, Sawyer wants to get the squad to not only work together but build a team atmosphere where they feel good about what they are doing on the field.
After thinking back about what goals the team had set for themselves last year, the senior pretty much focused on the team and not herself.
“At the beginning of each year the coach has us write down our goals and although a lot of us put down make it to the states, we all laughed about it and never thought of it as possible,” she said. “After making it to the State Finals last year and losing we found ourselves crushed, but it motivated us to try even harder this year.”
Individual goals were not put into play; all Sawyer was hoping to do this year was play her best while helping the team get back to the post-season while taking that extra step to accomplish what they were denied just a year earlier. And although Northbridge is a young team, the senior tri-captain is optimistic that the Ram’s have the chemistry and if they continue to work hard they could potentially do it.
With the younger girls, Sawyer will find herself playing multiple positions this fall and while she does not care where she is playing she feels that defense is her favorite position; it is also where she earned the All-State status. No matter where she finds herself playing preparation is all the same to her.
“She is usually playing center-back for us but with the loss of 8 seniors, including our leading scorer I am going to have to move her off the back line and into the middle of the field to help us generate some offense,” Strazzulla said. “She will be using her voice as a leader as she joins a lot of underclassmen in the mid field. She will become the assist to the assist.”
The Northbridge Coach concluded that in order to once again become successful Sawyer will have to be one of the main cogs for the team game in and game out if this is to become a reality.
“Rachel is someone who her teammates depend on for consistency and intensity. She is always game time focused and ready to give 100% to the team each time she walks onto the field,” the Coach said. “I have enjoyed watching her grow as a player over the last four years while involved with the varsity program here in Northbridge.”
So as the season rolls along, Sawyer will not be thinking about it being her last, but one in which she helped the Rams do good things.