Game changer

Salls+looks+on+from+the+sidelines+while+her+teammates+train.+She+will+play+soccer+next+year+at+the+University+of+Central+Oklahoma%2C+located+outside+of+Oklahoma+City.+

William Legrone

Salls looks on from the sidelines while her teammates train. She will play soccer next year at the University of Central Oklahoma, located outside of Oklahoma City.

Senior Ally Salls sat on the bench on the side of the soccer field, watching her teammates practice. The girls were scrimmaging, yelling across the pitch to one another. One of the forwards shot the ball, and the goalie dove to make the save. Salls looked down at her knee, wrapped in a brace, and thought to herself how she wished it could be her on the field playing.
But she can’t.

In November, Salls tore her patellar tendon, which extends down muscles in the thigh to attach the kneecap to the bones in the shin. She had knee surgery soon after, leaving her unable to play until March. After twelve years of soccer, her fourth and final year as a senior varsity goalkeeper ended before it ever started.

* * *

Scroll down Salls’s Instagram, and pictures of her and her teammates out on the soccer field fill the screen. She started playing when she was just 5 years old, and by the time she was a freshman, she had already made the varsity team. Over the years, she was always the one keeping the team pumped up during games. But this year, she would be doing that from the sidelines.

“I get to my senior year, and I wish I could enjoy it… instead of just having to sit and watch,” Salls said. “That’s something I wish I could fix.”

Salls has to wear a knee brace, and once healed, she’ll go to physical therapy three times a week. Although she tries hard to stay positive, sometimes it’s difficult to watch the team practice and play while she sits on the bench, especially since she looked forward to playing as a senior. The past three years, the varsity team has made it to the regional finals, and last year they made it to the area finals. To Salls, one of the most difficult parts of sitting out is the fact that if the team makes it this time, she’ll miss out on playing in her senior-year playoff games.

“I guess [the toughest part is] realizing that I could be the one out there playing,” Salls said.

Yet she still does her best to be a part of the team by building the relationships around her. She said that the girls on the team are some of her closest friends.

“I just keep myself motivated by the people around me,” Salls said. “Just looking forward to my future and knowing that my future is the reason I am where I am today and that’s what I need to push for.”

Plus, she said she plans to focus harder on the unofficial job she’s had since sophomore year- getting the team pumped up before games.

“I’m in charge of the boom box this year, so I choose the music for the bus rides and I’m going to make our warm-up CD this year,” Salls said. “I keep the bench motivated and encourage our team to do the best we can.”

Even if she’s on the bench, her team knows that she’ll be the loudest player on the field. Senior Dani Murphy, the only other senior who was also on varsity as a freshman, said being on varsity for four years was an absolute blessing. She said that she and Salls especially grew close over their time playing together.

“Salls has such a loving and goofy personality so it’s been so much fun spending the past four years together,” Murphy said. “We’ve been through a ton since freshman year and I’m thankful to have walked through everything with her.”

Besides being the team’s biggest supporter, Salls also focuses on what’s in her very near future. In June, Salls verbally committed to play for the University of Central Oklahoma. Once she’s able to play again, she said she is going to have to train extra hard to prepare for the challenges of college soccer.

“The girls are going to be even bigger and stronger than [they are in] high school,” Salls said. “Fitness is going to go way up, which is why I need to get my fitness level up when I come back from my injury.”

But Salls said she is ready to be part of the UCO team. Ever since she was little, she dreamed of becoming a college athlete. After attending the camps, she said she is excited to start playing for a college team.

“I love the coaches,” Salls said. “They’re all supportive and they make it fun. I’ve always wanted to become friends with [the players] and get to know them better.”

Even though she won’t play in her last year of high school, Salls said that her future in college helps to keep her motivated. As she sits on the bench, watching her friends play, she reminds herself that she can only get better from here. To her, improving for the future is the goal now.

“I realize that there is a purpose. There is a reason I’m sitting out,” Salls said. “And that’s just to get better and make myself healthy for my future and for college.”