June 9, 2015
By Brad Muller | More Features
Great athletes love to be challenged. After standing on the opposite side of the pitch from Team USA's Hope Solo and Megan Rapinoe in her first career start for the Western New York Flash of the National Women's Soccer League, former South Carolina All-American goalkeeper Sabrina D'Angelo is ready to show that she can play at the highest level.
"I was extremely nervous in that first game," D'Angelo said. "I knew it was going to be a tough game. It was my first game, so I was a little bit star struck. Once the whistle blew, I was able to calm down."
The Flash would lose that game, but D'Angelo would record her first win shortly thereafter in the team's home opener against Boston. She is the only rookie goalkeeper to earn a regular starting job in the league this season, and she recorded 15 saves in five starts before suffering a separated shoulder that sidelined her for the next few weeks. She's determined to bounce back.
"From the soccer side, the professional game is faster and the players are technically better," D'Angelo said. "So from a goalkeeping standpoint, I'm required to play quicker and make sure I'm clean with my passes and distribution or else you can get punished in this league a lot more than you would in college."
D'Angelo didn't let much faze her as a Gamecock. She is one of the most decorated student-athletes in the history of the South Carolina women's soccer program, and posted 29 career shutouts, which is the second most in school history. D'Angelo was the first South Carolina women's soccer student-athlete to earn two First-Team All-America nods, was a two-time SEC Defensive Player of the Year, and also earned many academic awards, including NSCAA Scholar All-America honors. She was 21st player selected overall in the third round of the NWSL College Draft and was fortunate to play alongside Sydney Leroux and Whitney Engen while they were on the Flash's roster before they departed with Team USA for the World Cup.
"I interacted more with Whitney because she plays in the back line," D'Angelo said. "She helped me manage the game a little bit more and how to read the forwards. I learned a lot from her."
I was fortunate that I had such great coaches. I know some girls don't get to have that relationship with their coaches like I did. They're still a part of my life now, and they're people I can still talk to. I'm grateful to have them.
Former Gamecock teammate Taylor Leach is on the practice roster for the Flash, and D'Angelo enjoys having some familiarity with one of her best friends from college.
"I'm really fortunate to have her here," D'Angelo said. "It's kind of nice because I had everything I needed at South Carolina, but now I really have everything I need here in New York. I'm an hour away from my family (in Canada), and I've got my best friend here. I'm really fortunate, and it's helped me a lot in trying to stay mentally sane through the beginning process of being a rookie."
"I learned how to manage my time and my priorities," D'Angelo said. "Jaime and Shelley helped both Tay (Taylor Leach) and I to become leaders. I was fortunate that I had such great coaches. I know some girls don't get to have that relationship with their coaches like I did. They're still a part of my life now, and they're people I can still talk to. I'm grateful to have them."
A typical day with the Flash involves two practices, which includes a weight lifting session. She lives within walking distance of the Flash's practice facility, but the team buses to its home match venue, which is approximately 90 minutes away. With soccer being the only thing on her plate right now as opposed to a full slate of classes, she enjoys being able to focus solely on her performance on the field. The team does have several off the field requirements, including a mentoring program with area children who play soccer.
"It's called the Flash Academy," D'Angelo said. "We are all placed with different teams. We talk to the girls and watch their games. I'm with a U-10 girls team, but other players are with boys teams as well. I enjoy doing it. I like working with the teams. We did that at South Carolina, so it's great to do it up here too. Working with kids, it's fun to see how they react and how they're learning the game."
With her professional career well under way, D'Angelo also has an eye on the next level. Having previously played for Team Canada's U-17 and U-20 team, she aspires to play for the national team at the highest level possible.
"Canada's older goalkeeper is retiring after this year's World Cup, so it opens up a slot for one of us younger girls," D'Angelo said. "I will definitely have a shot to go and tryout, but nothing is definite."
For now, the former Gamecock looks forward to getting back on the pitch, and looks back fondly at her days at South Carolina.
"I miss those Friday night games under the lights," D'Angelo said. "The fans at South Carolina were like no other, really. They make the atmosphere."
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