ARNOLD, MD – The Riverhawk women's soccer team decided to honor its past, celebrate its present, and contribute to the continued growth and support of the program as they hosted their 2nd annual alumni game earlier this season (9/6). Organized by current head women's soccer coach, Karin Victorio, the night involved music, alumni gifts, fans, and food in addition to the soccer match.
As initial moments of joy and excitement from seeing familiar faces as well as meeting new settled down – the alumni were laced up, and dressed in past season game jerseys, ready to take on this year's current squad for a 60-minute match. Although the obvious emphasis and objective of the exhibition match is light-hearted fun while increasing support and unity – it didn't stop either side from showing their competitive drive.
Some gathered on this night as former recent Riverhawk teammates, some as familiar acquaintances through rival high school days, some as former Pioneers, and some meeting for the first time – yet all gathered to celebrate the AACC women's soccer family they are all apart of.
Speaking with sophomores Maddie Stevenson, Randi Graham and Gabbie Keogh, the trio discussed that it was great to be on the field again with some of their teammates from last season but also with former players who would now be sharing the field together for the first time.
"It's really cool being able to connect with someone who knows what you are going through." States Graham. "Knowing they have been where we are themselves brings us all closer together."
"Rekindling those connections and talking with past players really helps envision their personal journey as a player here, and its great how we all share that bond – whether we played on the same team or not." Keogh adds.
Also on the field that night, Savannah Vickery ('15 & '16) appreciated the opportunity to catch up with former teammates as well.
"The main reason I came back for the game was to see Bailey while she was in town."
The Bailey in reference is Vickery's former standout teammate of the '15 & '16 seasons, Bailey Foust.
"I hadn't seen her since we were on the team about two years ago and I knew I wouldn't be able to see her again while she was in the Army for the next four years. It was just great to see a lot of the girls from the team, and I hadn't realized I missed them so much until I saw them!"
From the perspective of a first year Riverhawk, Allessandro Gargano adds, "I definitely was familiar with a majority of the players, but it was really cool to see some of the other generations come out to play as well."
With comments of other generations, Keogh adds, "Yeah! It was really cool seeing Duane's wife out there too!"
Referring to AACC Athletic Director Duane Herr's wife Amber Herr (then Poist), who was a (then Pioneer) student-athlete for the women's soccer team of '08 & '09. Contributing her thoughts of the night and why she wanted to come back and play, Amber states.
"This was a great event put on by Karin and the current team. I think it's a fantastic opportunity to come back and relive your best years as an athlete, embrace the hard work that the current athletes are putting in and play along side them for a fun work out. It was nice to feel welcomed back and to even receive some added treats!"
The "treats" referred to would be the shirts that were given to each alumni player and food provided after the match. The long-sleeved black Under Armour gift shirts sported the current Riverhawk logo on the front with "ALUMNI" displayed across the back.
"I still love and enjoy playing soccer. I like seeing the current athletes and how the team is performing and playing together. I also like seeing the current uniforms, team dynamic and coaching staff. I would've loved to see previous alum when I was a student athlete at AACC. I think it is beneficial for the athletes to see successful alumni staying athletic, healthy and achieving goals." Herr adds.
Specific Alum the current players surely recognized was their current women's assistant coach, Grace Kelly '13 & '14, who also took the field. Coach Kelly was a (then Pioneer) student-athlete for two years under retired Head Coach Jim Griffiths, and now has come back and been an assistant with current Head Coach Victorio since 2016.
"AACC soccer was a lot of fun for me – especially because my last year we went to nationals." Kelly states. "I was in the best shape of my life. Now as a coach, I want the girls to feel the same way. I want the girls to win regionals and make it to nationals, to experience the same emotions and feelings I felt."
Playing as Pioneers but staying involved as fans and as a coach with the same pride and compassion for the now Riverhawks, Herr and Kelly both commented on their stances towards the program and their hopes for its future.
"I hope to see the program expand with great players and good memories. I don't want players deciding not to come back because they had a poor experience while playing. I want them to be excited about the program and happy to share their experiences that they had with the program." Coach Kelly states, and Herr adds.
"Playing soccer at AACC was an amazing opportunity for me. I can honestly say I enjoyed every day as an athlete at AACC. The head coach was a great role model and someone who I still look up to. The entire athletic staff was helpful and went out of their way to make sure you had all the tools you need. I can only hope that is exactly how each athlete at AACC feels on a daily basis and upon leaving the institute. I absolutely hope to play again in future alumni games if the tradition continues, and I also hope to see more alumni come out in future years. "
In attendance, AD Duane Herr, had his thoughts of the night as well.
"I absolutely love the alumni game and appreciate that Coach Victorio has started the tradition. It is a great opportunity for our current players to meet and network with previous players who have experienced Riverhawk soccer and moved forward to pursue and accomplish academic and career goals. It is also a fun atmosphere that we get to welcome our alumni back to. They get to come back, reflect on prior playing experiences, reunite with former teammates and coaches and see what AACC Athletics is up to. Plus, who doesn't love Chick Fil A after a soccer game?"
When asked what he hopes the women, current and alumni take away from the game – AD Herr had this to say.
"Again, I'd preach the opportunity for our current players to network with alumni and get a taste of life after AACC soccer. Most of our returning alumni were from a year or two ago but it is still critical to see them attending four year institutions and moving forward in their careers. I also think it is a big opportunity for our current team to lighten the stress and just go play soccer. It is considered a game but the atmosphere is fun and light. In a long season of intense competition it is important to reflect on the fact that it is a game and to go have fun. For our alumni, I hope they take away that we still think about them and care about what they're doing. I'd love for all of our alumni to come back and visit, even if they don't get the chance to play. Our alumni have paved the way and made us the program we are. I hope they enjoy breaking out the equipment, having fun, and showing the current team that they had "it" and still do. From a big picture I think alumni games also show you that your time in college athletics will end but the memories and relationships last for a long time following the end of eligibility."
After the match, the group gathered for pictures, numerous selfies amongst themselves, good food & conversations – with of course, the Alumni proudly sporting their new Riverhawk long-sleeved UA shirts. With Coach Kelly in control of the MVP trophy for the Alumni team, Amber Herr was awarded the title as well as the exclusive AACC Riverhawk athlete water bottle.
Upon further reflection of the Alumni event, Coach Victorio discussed the larger picture envisioned from her intentions of the women's soccer program. With her heart invested in the sport, the college, and community –Victorio is continuously working to build her revelation of the successful "full-circulation" that is AACC Athletics and women's soccer within the Anne Arundel community.
"To me soccer is a proxy for life." Victorio says. "Its an activity that unites people of all ages, genders, races, religions, and nationalities. I wish everyone to stay in the game as long as possible, to have long, healthy, and happy careers because you'll miss it when it's done."
Through past coaches' involvement, combined with Victorio's present efforts, there becomes a clear path of engagement and support from the Anne Arundel community – starting at the elementary youth level up through adulthood. Basically, a full-circulation of participation right here in the community – created with AACC Athletics and the women's soccer program.
Truly having strong connections in the community as a Glen Burnie resident and Glen Burnie High School graduate, AD Herr himself was an AACC student-athlete for the '06 & '07 men's baseball teams – contributing to Victorio's full circle vision as he has journeyed his way back. Herr recognizes the benefits individuals have as student-athletes at AACC as he was recruited to pitch for local NCAA DI Towson University, following his time at AACC.
"Athletics paved the way for my life, bottom line." Herr states. "Without the opportunity to play baseball at AACC, I would have been done with competitive athletics and definitely wouldn't have played at the Division 1 level with a scholarship paying for my academics."
Contributing to the idea of the full circulation envisioned by Vicotrio, Duane and his wife Amber become primary examples with their personal journey. With attending the Alumni game, Duane was able to support the school he once attended, support a team of the athletic department he now directs, and support a girlfriend he had while they both attended AACC that he refers to not only his wife, but the mother of his children as the couple's daughter Kaleigh and son Beckett were in attendance that night as well.
"Thanks to that opportunity [Towson scholarship] I was able to return to AACC for an internship and rekindle a relationship with Amber who was playing soccer here at the time." Duane says. "Who knows if we would have connected again without AACC Athletics? I think it goes without saying that we are an AACC family. With that, our kids have been welcomed to the Riverhawk Family and there is no better joy than seeing our daughter run around the facilities and truly love visiting "Daddy's Work". Obviously, they don't yet comprehend that mommy and daddy played sports here or how impactful that was for us but I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to share that with them once they get older. Being able to work at the place that gave me the chance to continue academically and athletically provides me with inspiration and motivation to continue and enhance that same opportunity for our incoming student-athletes. I'm comfortable saying that all of our athletic staff take pride in our programs and truly believe that the student-athletes at AACC are OUR student-athletes. We want them to succeed in all aspects of life. Knowing what AACC can provide by personally living the experience shows me how powerful AACC Athletics is."
Just as enthusiastic in what AACC athletics has meant for her family, Amber also adds her comments about their "AACC Family" journey.
"It has to be one of the most amazing feelings each time I come to AACC. I love knowing that my suggestion, as a girlfriend to her boyfriend (at that time), to ask for an internship turned into a full time job, part time for me, marriage and two babies! I can honestly say it is so fun to come to AACC to visit "Daddy" and play on the facilities. It's exciting to watch our daughters little face light up watching me play or hearing her scream "Go Mommy" from the sidelines where I once was an 18-year-old athlete. Then running off the field to give both of our kids a kiss at half time."
With such pride within the Anne Arundel community, it is great to be able to reflect and distinguish the positive impact AACC Athletics and the women's soccer program has had and continues to make on so many lives.
Other AACC women's soccer alumni in attendance that night: Kallee O'Connor ('16 & '17), Lexie McArdle ('16 & '17), Haley Smoot ('14 & '14), Alison Connell ('13 & '14), Yasemin Yazici ('14 & '15), Nicole Reynolds ('16), Savannah Vickery ('15 & '16), Bailey Foust ('15 & '16), Amber Herr ('08 & '09), Grace Kelly ('13 & '14)
Photos from the game found here.
The women's soccer team has plenty of season left, so be sure to get out and see them in action! Always check aaccathletics.com for the latest up-to-date schedules and remember to get the latest updates and announcements, as well as receiving all access to live stats and live videos by following AACC Athletics (@aaccathletics) on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube!
You can also further connect with the women's soccer team and check out their social media pages on Twitter & Instagram (@AACC_WomSoccer), as well as the team page on Facebook (AACC Women's Soccer).