Courtesy of Fort Hays State University Athletics
BY NIKKI SHERRILL
8,750 miles from Hays, Kan., lies a small country town called Young, New South Wales, Australia. That distance not only signifies the mileage in which FHSU women’s soccer senior Eden Stoddard made to compete in collegiate soccer, but also one of the biggest adventures Stoddard has been on in her 22 years.
“These four years have been a journey to remember, that’s for sure,” said Stoddard. “Before I came here, I didn’t even know how to use a washing machine, and now I have felt a change in myself as I have become more independent while being here.”
Stoddard grew up in Young playing soccer, as well as rugby and basketball. She found the opportunities to grow in soccer to be relevant in Australia than the other sports she loved. The presence of camps, leagues and tournaments within the region granted Stoddard more chances to appreciate the game which would ultimately change her life.
“I was able to play for my high school program and for different competitive leagues, but I got the most attention playing for the Australian School Girls team. We toured England and I was scouted by the coach at the University of Wyoming while over there. That was the first real thought I had of ever continuing to play past high school,” said Stoddard.
Stoddard earned a spot on the Laramie County (Wyo.) Community College women’s soccer roster where she played two full seasons. Within her time with the Golden Eagles, Stoddard made a trip to nationals in Florida and earned All-American status during her sophomore season. With her time at LCCC coming to a close, Stoddard began to get offers for transfer opportunities across the region. It took a friend from her junior college time to end up giving Fort Hays State a look.
“I quickly saw Fort Hays State as a great fit for me. The facilities, successful program and Health and Human Performance department all helped me realize this just made sense,” said Stoddard.
With the papers signed and her life moved to Hays, Stoddard was ready to compete at the Division II level. She admits it was a little bit of an adjustment to get used to the game and preparation regimen here.
“I have never trained five days a week prior to playing at this level so that was a big jump for me. The American game is so much faster and stronger to compete with than what I was used to before. I had to change my whole mentality on the field, as well as my training schedule,” she said.
Last season, Stoddard was a part of one of the best years in FHSU women’s soccer history. The Tigers were 14th in the final national rankings, as well as co-MIAA champions. They advanced to the Central Regional Final of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. Stoddard started all 23 matches for FHSU, while scoring seven goals – good for second-highest on the team. Stoddard also captured Second Team All-MIAA honors in her first year in black and gold.
During the offseason, Craig Shaw resigned as head coach for the Tigers, leaving a vacancy at the top. Blake Reynolds was hired on to take over a team coming off a strong year and given the task to build on the success.
“Coach Reynolds is awesome and has made this transition very easy for everyone. We all have learned so much about each other and adjusted well so I believe we have an opportunity to get back to where we were last year,” she said.
The 2017 Tigers are off to a strong start as they have yet to lose in four matches at 2-0-2. Stoddard credits Reynolds for the early success and how the team has accepted the coaching change with open arms.
“Coach Reynolds has given us a new motto for the game which is “possessions with a purpose.” It helps us realize we need to be able to get to the goal in each possession and not just pass the ball around. We have to be aggressive. We need to have that goal of getting forward and scoring,” she said.
Stoddard herself has shown she isn’t fazed by the past success and is continuing to look forward and improve. In four contests, Stoddard has three goals and one assist to her name. This early season performance is much like last year as she netted five early season goals to start 2016.
“Most of my goals come off through balls or crosses or team buildups, so I don’t really take the credit, it’s always a team set up. I tend to start off the year strong because of the motivation inside me. I have the motivation and goal to get to nationals and have a strong season so I always want to start off on a good note, especially this year being my last I want it to be the best,” she said.
Even with the loss of multiple strong players from last season, Stoddard sees the skill and potential within this group she is helping to lead her senior season. The Tigers know they have what it takes to make it back to the stage they were on last postseason, and they have team goals to remain in the Top 25 and make it further than their regional final exit last year.
“I think we are more connected as a team, which will help us get back to where we were. Each game we are improving. There is a lot for us to work on, but we have only been together for a month now so the more we play and train together the more we will mesh together,” she said.
Each day is another step forward for the team and provides chances to continue to learn about each other in order to help get stronger. For an international player, one of the biggest hurdles to jump is the language and communication barrier with different languages present. As a spectator in soccer, many different languages can be heard from the stands as the players on the field all try to communicate.
“The accents are always hard to work with at first because my teammates don’t understand me and I don’t understand them, but the more you get to know them the more you catch onto their slang. I think most of the girls on my team still don’t understand me though. They have definitely picked up on my slang. I even think I have changed them more than they have changed me,” said Stoddard.
Stoddard has proven to be a leader on the team, not only statistically but emotionally as well. With her outgoing personality, Stoddard can help to connect her teammates and bring out their full potential.
“They call me the clown of the team. They are always laughing at me and they say I am only funny because of my accent. I am a very outgoing person and I am always down for an adventure, which I think is one of my best strengths,” she said.
With this adventure just one season away from its ending, Stoddard hopes to take what she has learned and the opportunities she has been given with her into her future endeavors. Pursuing a degree in Health Promotion, Stoddard hopes to get into the fitness and health industry. However, she has aspirations of finding a club program to take her on in the States.
“I want to be in the health and fitness industry, but when I graduate I want to stay in the states for a few years and maybe even try getting into a professional soccer league,” she said. “I hope to travel before I eventually get my way back to Australia, but once my soccer career is officially over, I will be ready to be back home in Australia.”
Stoddard and her fellow Tigers will be back in action Thursday (Sept. 14) in Nebraska at Kearney. Their first home action will take place on September 22 in a non-MIAA meeting with Washburn.