Kristan Hale couldn't help but feel something special when she saw her shot hit the back of the net during the WNCC soccer team's match Sunday afternoon. It was more than her first goal as a collegiate player and more than an insurance goal in WNCC's 2-0 victory against Southern Idaho in Twin Falls.
It was another step forward in her return to a sport she loves to play, and a sport that has new meaning these days. You see, not only is Hale playing soccer for the first time since her senior season at Carson High School in the fall of 2002, she is balancing life as a mother and full-time college student who also holds down a weekend job as a checker at Raley's.
Coach Hillary Arthur marvels at what the 20-year-old forward is able to accomplish.
"She has a lot on her plate and she manages it very well," Arthur said. "She is a great leader to have on the team, and a great example."
A lot has happened to Hale since she began her senior year at Carson High. Most important is her daughter, 1 1/2-year-old Jordyn.
"I've definitely learned a lot from having my daughter," she said. "There's the responsibility. It's not just me anymore. I love her more than anything in this world. She's my little princess."
Jordyn makes it out to the home games at Edmonds Sports Complex and has even come to be known as an unofficial mascot for the Wildcats, who are 3-2-2 overall so far in their inaugural season (0-2 Scenic West Athletic Conference).
"If we had a little Wildcat outfit, she'd be in it," Arthur said of Jordyn. "All the team knows her and they all love her. She's definitely part of our family."
Added Hale, "She likes being at the games screaming from the sidelines."
Up until early July, Hale basically figured her second year as a WNCC student would be devoted to working on her ultimate goal - a degree in nursing. Soccer really wasn't much more than an afterthought.
"I heard there was going to be a soccer team and I was excited, but I didn't think it would be an option for me to play," Hale said. "After talking to coach and other people, I started thinking more seriously about it. I never thought I'd get another opportunity to play, but I'm very grateful I did because I love playing soccer. It's what I want to do and I've been able to find a way to balance it all."
Arthur is more than happy to have her.
"Kristan came to me and said, 'I want to play,' and it's been like finding a diamond in the rough," Arthur said. "She plays with great intensity, she comes to practice every day ready to work, she's very coachable and always willing to learn more.
"She's definitely a leader on our team. The girls on the team all look up to her. Anytime one of them is feeling down or feeling sorry for themselves, I tell them, 'Go talk to Kristan,' because she is so responsible and so motivated. And the thing about Kristan, she is able to come into any situation and be so positive."
Hale has taken her upbeat attitude and emerged as a starter for the Wildcats in their last five games.
"My game's coming back," Hale said. "I've learned a lot from coach, too. College is a lot different from high school. It's definitely more physical. And I've learned to play as part of a team more, to move the ball around the field instead of just kick-and-run."
For a first-year team that has no players with previous college soccer experience, the Wildcats have been holding their own. The only blowout so far has been a 6-0 loss at home against perennial national junior college power Dixie State College on Sept. 8.
"They're going to be playing (NCAA) Division II next year, so they're very good. Hopefully, we'll do better when we play them again," Hale said, referring to WNCC's next game on Sept. 30 against Dixie State in St. George, Utah.
"There's so much talent on this team and we're starting to unite as a team," she added. "I just love being on this team and I love each and every one of the players."
So, yes, scoring that goal on Sunday was a memorable experience.
"Being my first one since coming back, that made it more special than the others," Hale said. "It was a cool game because we won and I got so score, so that made it all the better."
It was certainly well-earned.
n Contact Dave Price at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1220.