LAST SEMESTER, CINCO RANCH HIGH GIRLS SOCCER COACH FREDY SANGUINETTI OCCASIONALLY RAN INTO HIS FORMER STAR PLAYER, SENIOR FORWARD ALI RUSSELL.
“OK, so are you failing? You can stay and play next semester?” Sanguinetti would ask, grinning.
Russell just returned the smile and laughed, knowing plans for her senior year had been put into motion five years earlier.
It was during her eighth-grade year that Russell knew she wanted to play college soccer. She also knew she wanted to play at Texas A&M, where her dad and sisters attended.
So, Russell established an agenda to graduate high school early and get a head start in College Station during what would otherwise have been the spring semester of her senior year.
Graduating high school early is the norm for Texas A&M women’s soccer players; three of four Aggie signees for the Class of 2019 are graduating early. Russell, who was offered a scholarship by Texas A&M during September of her freshman year, is one of the three.
Russell, who formally signed the offer in November, set foot onto the Texas A&M campus January 6, two days before her fellow Cinco Ranch Class of 2019 members began their final semester of high school.
“I’m excited for the challenge of working to be a better player myself and better the team I’m on,” said Russell, who graduates from Cinco Ranch on January 24. “I like challenges. I love competition. I think it’s going to be a whole different level that teaches me so many more things on and off the field.”
Russell said starting early at Texas A&M is beneficial for getting acquainted with the team, campus and academics before her freshman season officially starts in August.
She will create friendships earlier and become more comfortable with workouts. The team plays spring games that she will be able to participate in.
Russell told Sanguinetti, who coached Russell for 18 months in club soccer before coaching her all three years of high school, of her intentions to graduate early, therefore bypassing her senior season, during her freshman year.
Russell only second-guessed herself once, when the Cougars, after making the state tournament for the second time in three years, fell to Flower Mound Marcus in overtime in the Class 6A state semifinals last spring.
“I was like, OK, so if I stay, do you think we could win state?” Russell recalled. “It was a big thing. I wanted to win state so bad, and we were so close so many times.
“But I know in the long run this would be better for me.”
It makes for a unique circumstance.
Russell was an all-state forward at Cinco Ranch. Three years with the Cougars saw her produce 120 goals and 51 assists.
She has dreams of playing professionally, ideally for the Houston Dash of the National Women’s Soccer League.
With her, Cinco Ranch is a probable favorite to return to the state tournament.
Without her, the Cougars are mixing and matching personnel to re-establish footing.
“For this team, it’s not about wins or losses,” said Sanguinetti, who knows of just one other player who graduated high school early to jump start their college career.
“It’s about the process. The girls took Ali’s situation as so great and were so happy for her and her decision.
“We’re dealt with what we’re dealt, and we have to work with what’s there. Would I have loved another year? Absolutely. It wasn’t good news for us, but great for her, and we all just wanted her to keep going. It’s amazing.”
This article appears in the January 2019 Issue of VYPE Magazine. Pick up your copy at any one of our locations today!