When Sarah Fuller took to the field a year ago for the Vanderbilt soccer team, the senior took the world by storm, empowering women of all ages to do what many thought was impossible: break barriers and make history. .
In other words, play like a girl.
Much like that phrase she affixed to the back of her helmet during her playing days for the Commodores, Fuller has since become an icon in women’s sports as the girl who stepped up when a team needed to. somebody.
Fuller became the first woman to play for a Power 5 soccer team when she departed with Vanderbilt on November 28, 2020 against Missouri. Two weeks later, she became the first woman to score in a Power 5 game with a pair of extra points against Tennessee.
But before soccer existed, soccer existed.
“I started playing soccer when I was five years old,” says Fuller. “I started as a midfielder, but my coach told me ‘well, you’re tall’, and then I was a goalkeeper. I thought it was a punishment. “
The road to becoming “Fuller the Placekicker” took a long time. Fuller quit soccer for a year when he was 12 because he didn’t enjoy being a goalkeeper. After a year off, Fuller came back, met her goalkeeping coach, and was ready to try again.
“I think the position fits my personality,” Fuller laughs. “I can be loud and meet people, it’s perfect.”
When Fuller was a sophomore in high school, he began to seriously consider extending his career to college. To focus more on soccer, Fuller stopped playing volleyball and joined an ECNL team in Dallas called the D’Feeters Kicks, eventually being called up to a national team camp.
“They were just goalkeepers,” Fuller recalls. “There’s a picture of her at the bottom of my Instagram, and it’s me, Casey murphy is there, Laurel [Ivory], who is in Virginia, all these people who are still around and are still amazing in football today. “
Fuller was getting stares from a couple of Division II schools, and eventually Vandy showed up after watching a movie of his performance. It was a school she had never heard of, but Fuller’s parents encouraged her to take a look.
“My parents told me to look it up because it’s a great school in the SEC,” says Fuller. “It’s right in Nashville, so we took a trip there and it was everything I could have asked for.”
It was that summer that Fuller made a verbal commitment to Vanderbilt.
Kicking has always been a skill that the 6’2 ”goalkeeper possesses. Fuller could throw the ball 60 yards as a high school student in Wylie, Texas. By the time she was a freshman at Vanderbilt, Fuller was ready to play and more excited than ever.
Instead of buckling her cleat laces as a freshman, though, Fuller wore a cast – a broken foot would knock her out of the game, and she didn’t see time to play.
By the time he was a sophomore, Fuller was completely healed and helped record a shutout in the only game he played for the Commodores that year. But the injury hit again, and Fuller ended up with an injured puck in his back.
Fuller, it appeared, was prone to injury. In her third year, the goalkeeper ended up with a small fracture on her other foot. When he was finally about to play the field, he recorded his first start and his first solo shutout against Chattanooga.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and sent everyone home.
“He had been through hell and back,” says Fuller. “There were several times that I thought about quitting smoking. I thought about transferring. I just didn’t know if this was the level I needed to play at if it was hurting me all the time. I had many days when I just called my parents crying. “
With the uncertainty of a season during the pandemic, Fuller still reported to the preseason in July 2020. It became clear that this was the moment Fuller had been so patiently waiting for: He saw playing time in 12 games with an 8-3 record. -0. Fuller had a series of shutouts after shutouts for more than a month, and the Commodores would enter the SEC tournament as the seventh seed.
The Commodores went through the competition. Fuller recorded an assist on a goal in the quarterfinals against Tennessee, when he effortlessly threw the ball to the other end of the field. Fuller and his teammates played Arkansas in the final, beating them 3-1 and taking home Vandy’s first SEC women’s soccer title since 1994.
“I’m really glad I moved on,” says Fuller. “I was able to go out and do what I always believed I was capable of. I am much more proud to win the championship during the pandemic because sometimes it was very difficult, mentally very difficult to do, but we got through it ”.
Fuller’s celebrations only lasted a few days when he was asked to audition for the soccer team, which desperately needed a kicker. Vanderbilt does not have a men’s soccer team, leaving Fuller as one of the only options to fill the spot.
His parents were driving home to Texas from Alabama, where the SEC championship was held, when Fuller called them to break the news that he was auditioning for soccer.
Later that day, Fuller called his father and said, “You know this is something important, right?”
And his father was right. The goalkeeper-turned-place-kicker didn’t turn the Vanderbilt football team around without a win. But it had a huge effect on those who tuned in to see how history was made.
On the back of Fuller’s helmet was a plaque that read Play like a girl“A nod to the non-profit organization of the same name that empowers girls through sports and helps propel them into male-dominated fields such as STEM.
“That was just an idea I came up with,” recalls Fuller. “I pressed it on the back of my helmet because some guys had things on the back of their helmets that they were propping up and I was like, ‘I want to do that.
Fuller said the timing couldn’t have been more perfect, as she felt like she had a ton of little moments that were getting her on the right track. After becoming a media sensation, Fuller reflected on his time in the limelight, something he didn’t fully understand when he lined up for that extra point.
“I treat it as a liability,” says Fuller. “I know there are a lot of people watching and I want to do the right thing. Continuing to support women in every way possible is the most important thing. I still have people who tell me that I am a great inspiration or that I gave them the courage to try football ”.
Fuller knows as well as anyone that the future is filled with endless possibilities; She mentioned trying to play professional soccer and finding the way that would lead her to the right path.
For now, a year later, after having time to process the impact it has had on women and girls in sport, the former placekicker is a graduate student at the University of North Texas. Fuller is back to playing goal, which he loves the most.
“My coach has made it very clear that I would not do anything related to football while I am here.”
Mackenzie Meaney is a contributor to Good sport, a media company dedicated to increasing the visibility of women and girls in sport.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.