There are approximately 100 African American and other student-athletes of color this school year at the University of Minnesota. In an occasional series throughout the 2018-19 school and sports year, the MSR will highlight many of these players. This week we profile two players at opposite ends of the collegiate-play spectrum: Gopher senior volleyball
It couldn’t have been scripted any better: Patricia Ward in her first college soccer game scored her team’s first goal of the 2018 season. The same thing also occurred in her first collegiate start.
“It was really exciting,” Ward said of her double firsts that took place in Minnesota’s August 17 season opener at Utah. “It was probably my biggest moment yet.” The first-year player is among three Gopher newcomers who all have netted their first collegiate goals as game-winners this season – Ward’s came with 11 seconds left in the contest.
The soccer net — 16.5 to 21 feet wide between the posts and 6.5 and 7 feet tall from a layman’s point of view, looks like a scorer’s dream and a goalkeeper’s nightmare. But at an earlier home match this season, Ward misfired on what looked like a sure-thing scoring chance, but the ball instead hit the crossbar.
“It’s not as easy as it looks,” Ward pointed out. “It was real disappointing. I really wanted [the goal].”
Ward this season has played in every game thus far and has a .400 shots-on-goal percentage. A three-time all-conference player and National Honor Society member, the Newport News, Va. native admitted, “I didn’t know I was going to play as much,” especially after she was switched to defense soon after arriving in Minnesota.
“I had played forward my entire life, but when I came to Minnesota in the spring that changed [with her switch to defense],” Ward recalled. She enrolled at the school last winter and participated in spring practices. “But I got moved back up in the preseason this summer” to her natural forward position.
After nearly a half-calendar year on the Twin Cities campus, the team’s only Black player said she hasn’t experienced homesickness as most out-state freshmen typically face, but she wasn’t able to avoid the usual first-year athletic adjustments from high school to college ball. “The soccer is crazy different from playing in high school. A big surprise,” she quickly learned.
“The physicality of college soccer, the speed of playing and everything” has required some adjustments, but “it’s getting better.” Along with the higher level of competition, the expectations of a college player have required an adjustment as well: “Your teammates expect more of you,” Ward said.
Ward as yet hasn’t selected a major. “I have a lot of ideas,” she noted. “Right now I’m planning on majoring in kinesiology and maybe one day being a physical therapist. I’m also looking at minoring in journalism and psychology. I’m not really sure yet.”
Her official visit sold her on attending Minnesota. “The first time I came here I felt welcomed,” Ward recalled. “That really solidified [the decision] for me. I really like the vibe here and the people. Everything feels like home.”
Minnesota wraps up September looking to improve on its 3-4-0 home mark with two home games: Maryland on the 27th at 6 pm and Rutgers on the 30th at 1 pm at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium on the U of M’s St. Paul campus.
“It hasn’t been bad at all,” Ward said of her adjustment period.
Outside hitter Adanna Rollins is one of two freshmen who have started in all 10 matches for the Gopher volleyball team. She is third on the team in kills this season.
“She is playing good volleyball,” Minnesota Coach Hugh McCutcheon said last week of the six-foot player.
Rollins will be featured in a future Gopher 100 column.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.