ATHLETICS: ROLL TIDE: E’town grad Ann Bell walked through the open door

Ann Bell knew she was going to play collegiate soccer.

She really didn’t know where, but she knew it.

“For a long time, I really thought I was going to play soccer in college,” the Elizabethtown graduate said.

That slowly faded away during her senior season.

“I’ve been playing since I was 4-years-old,” she said. “But one of the cool lessons I learned through all of this was to keep all your options open. I was so focused on, ‘I’m going to play in college’ that I could not see that Alabama is the place for me.

“I’m a pretty religious person and I prayed about this all the time. I would pray for this school to like me or for that school to like me and that was completely the wrong approach. As it went on, God was closing certain doors and opening other ones. Some schools I thought I could play at, it was a hard no and I would be confused. But there were reasons for those doors playing closed and not playing soccer.”

Bell admittedly did not like some of the answers she was getting to her prayers.

“When you’re passionate about playing in college, yes it honestly was hard seeing all those doors close,” she said. “By the end of my senior season I knew this isn’t what I wanted in college. This has nothing to do with playing at E’town, but I wasn’t as passionate about the game as I had been. By then, when I realized that doors were shutting, it was a good feeling, a good thing for me. I was finally getting somewhere. I was becoming clear to me that I had been getting a lot of noes and I hadn’t gotten a yes yet. Then I started to let it (the dream) go.

“Education was always the most important to me. Whether I was going to play soccer or tennis in college, I was going for educational purposes and I wasn’t going to make that decision on a sport. The decision was going to be on education and soccer or tennis would come next. It was time to get it go. All the doors were closing and that one was still open.”

That one was Alabama.

“I was at the GSP (Governors Scholars Program) the summer between my junior and senior year and a few people started talking about bigger schools and the awesome things they would see at those bigger schools with different majors,” Bell said. “Someone mentioned Alabama and for some reason it stuck with me. My ACT score was a struggle for a while. It wasn’t super low, but it wasn’t where it needed to be to go there.

“My senior year I visited Alabama and I loved everything the school stands for and it fit me perfectly. It was my dream school and not doing there wasn’t an option for me. So I worked really, really hard from October through January, mainly focusing on my ACT and getting it as high as I could. I took the test in February and I got the results back a month later. In the meantime I figured I would probably go to UK, but I knew I wasn’t going to play soccer anymore.

“My senior year I wasn’t as passionate as I was before. There was not a certain moment when I thought, ‘Oh, no, I’m not supposed to play soccer anymore.’ It just happened. It just faded and the ball stopped bouncing. I could play intramural and club-level soccer and tennis in college if I wanted. But, that big of a focus on sports and education in college wasn’t for me.”

Bell added rather strongly that her passion faded for playing the game at the next level, not playing for the Lady Panthers and head coach Pat Black.

“I loved playing high school soccer,” she said. “That’s why this decision was so hard. I loved playing for E’town. I love the coaches and the players are literally my sisters. I’ve grown up with these kids.”

She watched three of her best friends make decisions to play Division I athletics — Gabby Garcia and Josie Kremzar in soccer and Whitney Hay in basketball.

“Seeing them make those decisions at the time was really hard for me because I still did not know what I was going to do,” Bell said. “That was a personal decision for all of them. Them going to college just as students would not be right. I know they’ll be super successful.”

Bell received advice about that next step.

“I was told to keep my options open and then if you’re successful in high school sports, you kind of have the feeling that you should play in college and if I don’t, then I’m not good,” she said. “I think I struggled with that a little bit. I had to diagnose myself and what I wanted. No one else can tell you what you want. You have to figure it out for yourself.

“If you keep everything open, then you still have options. I still thought at the time that I would go play in college and not apply to Alabama.”

High school figures from the 2018-19 High School Athletics Participation Survey conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations show 7.18 percent of the 394,105 female soccer players continue to play the sport at the collegiate level.

That means 365,795 hung up their cleats after completing their high school careers.

“You have to compare education to sports,” Bell said. “I took the same approach studying for the ACT that I took in soccer. I was working for a scholarship. Instead of training for soccer, it was a scholarship to go to school and not an athletic scholarship. As soon as I got my score, my dad and I drove down to Alabama the next day to see the campus one more time to solidify my decision.”

Bell finished her Lady Panthers career with 65 goals and 38 assists. She was the leading scorer her sophomore and senior seasons, totaling 44 goals and 23 assists. She left with a 61-20-4 record, with half of those losses coming last fall.

Her decision was far from easy, even considering approximately 93 percent of all high school athletes make about heading to college as a student and not a student-athlete.

“This was the first big decision I ever had to make and I didn’t understand why I didn’t see it,” Bell said. “I was angry at first on why these college coaches didn’t like me and didn’t want me at their school. When I visited Alabama I started thinking about what I needed and once high school soccer season was over, different things became more important to me than soccer.

“My parents and I had a lot of long discussions. It seemed like we were talking about college and the ACT all the time. They told me they were not gonna pay for everything and that I was going to have to do this on my own. If I worked hard enough, I could get to where I wanted to go. It was a kind-of-on-me sort of thing. At first, you don’t want to put in the work, but once I saw where I would be able to go to school, it motivated me. I wanted to go to Alabama so badly that I was willing to do whatever and put in the work for it. Because I saw the end in my mind, I worked even harder than I would for anything else.”

Working hard for an education is nothing new for Bell.

“It’s how I was raised,” she said. “I’ve grown up knowing education was important through my parents and through them it became really important to me as well. This whole college decision, when you know — you know. You have this feeling that this is right. Gabby, Josie and Whitney had that feeling for them, that this was the right decision, and I had that for me as well.

“When I was looking for a school, I had a checklist and Alabama checked all those boxes. Some were more important than others, but it was still on the list. Being undecided on a major is a big thing because at a bigger school like Alabama, I have a lot of options if I decided to switch majors once I decide on one.”

And, then again, there’s God.

“I wanted to be able to go to school, be a religious person, be a Christian and not be ashamed for it,” Bell said. “Religion is important and I wanted a college that would encompass that as well.”

Mike Mathison can be reached at 270-505-1758 or mmathison@thenewsenterprise.com.

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