The Road to College and Life of a D1 Athlete

by Brooke Ligtenberg

My name is Brooke Ligtenberg and I am lucky enough to play for the Cal State Fullerton women’s soccer team.  I played for Curt Jensen and Freedom FC on the very first Freedom team when I was younger and I have been asked to share my recruiting and college soccer experiences. 

I started playing soccer at the age of 5.  My older sister played and so I was always at the field kicking a ball around and when the time came my mom signed me up.  The team had four players and I remember that because my best friend played defense and I scored goals.  The other two girls didn’t really want to play much.  But, my best friend and I wanted to win and we did that season and I had so much fun!  My mom wanted to me try other things too and not just settle on soccer because my sister played, so I tried basketball, dance and horseback riding.  But every time a season ended with another sport I asked to go back to soccer.  So, at 9, I played on my first club team.    Little did I know what the future had in store.

First FFC Team #10 with Curt Jensen

By the time I was in 8th grade I knew I wanted to keep playing soccer in college, and I knew I wanted to play at the top level my skill would allow.  I had an older sister to watch as she went through the recruiting process and I watched her narrow down schools based on what she wanted from college.  So, I started to do the same thing.  I wanted BIG!! The bigger name the better.   I started writing USC, Baylor and UCLA and calling many schools on the phone.  Even though the coaches could not call me back, if I caught them on the phone they could talk to me.  I started to develop a relationship with Baylor to the point that, when I called, they would answer the phone “Hi Brooke”.   I was contacted through my club coach by the first school interested in me at the end of my Freshman year.   I went to the campus for the full tour and a meeting with the coaches.  Being on campus and hearing the coaches talk about their school with such pride made me excited and standing on the field and in the locker room I could see myself there.  In that meeting they asked me if I was ready to commit, and much to my parents’ heartache, I said no, not yet.  I wanted to keep my options open and not make a decision yet.   Baylor was still showing interest and in fact they were coming to watch me play a few months later at a Showcase and I wanted to see what they said first.

 Little did I know that 2 weeks before the Showcase I would have a collision on the field with a center back that would tear the labrum in my hip.  The diagnosis of Femoral Acetabular Impingement was not super common and would require extensive hip surgery.  The surgery was relatively new and the doctors were reassuring as to complete healing but not as reassuring as to what my ability to play at a high level would be or the complete recovery time.   In January 2013 I went in for a five hour hip surgery.  It was the middle of my Sophomore year in high school, and most of my team mates were in heavy contact with schools they were interested in to come watch them play in Spring.  Our team had been accepted to a major Showcase in Newark, NJ that Baylor was coming to and I made it my goal to be back on the field in that 5 months.  The doctor felt that was very optimistic but I started rehab of just learning how to move my leg again as it had 0 range of motion.  Straight legged on an exercise bike was not easy but I did it every day for the first six weeks along with many other exercises to get my leg going.  Once the first six weeks were complete I was allowed to start training with Sports Rehab.  I had INCREDIBLE trainers who were going to school to learn about my hip and would show up with new exercises every week.  I went three to four times a week for 2 -3 hours for the next 4 months.  I was released by my surgeon and Sports Medicine therapist on Monday and boarded the plane cleared to play on Friday in New Jersey.

To say the least, I didn’t look so great at the tournament.  I wasn’t 100% at game speed and my touches were not as sharp as they had once been but I was there and I tried.  Baylor came to all the games, but when I called following the tournament they stated they needed to see more and invited me to camp.  That summer was a long summer of no real interest and a lot of just getting back to the speed of the game.   By summer’s end I was finally coming back into form and at our last summer tournament I was top goal scorer. 

Junior year was now in full swing and while my team mates were finalizing things I was feeling very lost.  My entire direction had changed post surgery.  I loved my rehab trainers and knew that I wanted to be close to home if I ever had to go through anything like that again.  So, I wanted to start looking close and I decided to re-ignite my conversations with the very first school that showed interest my freshman year.   That school had followed me through recovery and my journey back onto the field.  But, when I re-started talks they were not as interested as they had once been. 

 So, as Spring of my Junior year rolled around, I started all over.  I made a whole new list of California schools and started calling and trying to get their attention.   I sent tons of emails and made as many phone calls as possible to all the D1 California schools inviting them to my upcoming Vegas Showcase.  Thankfully we had spent Fall season my Junior year watching tons of college soccer so I knew how a lot of the teams played and could tell the coaches why I thought I could fit in their program.  I started playing high school soccer and our team did very well winning League and moving to the Quarterfinals of CIF.   It was after a CIF game that I got a call from my club coach stating Fullerton would like me to call them.  I called the Asst. Coach, Diego, that night and he expressed his interest in me and wanted my Vegas schedule.   I was invited to visit the school to watch a practice and have a tour the next week.   I knew immediately the school fit me and I felt immediately at home.  Two weeks later Cal State Fullerton, along with several other schools I had invited (including Baylor) sat on the sideline of all my games in Las Vegas.  It was a great tournament for my team and being at full strength I showed my skill set well.   The very next week I received an invitation to come to Fullerton for a meeting and this time when I was asked if I was ready to hear the offer and consider a commitment – I said YES!  On March 26, 2014, I committed to becoming a Titan and with that I had reached my goal of playing Division 1 soccer and only one year and two months after hip surgery.   

Next came the wait ….Senior year was highlighted with additional soccer championships and high school CIF runs.  But, everything was in anticipation for August 1, 2015 ….my first day of college training.

We moved in the first week of August and to be honest, it was very exciting.  We had Christmas in August with all our new gear waiting for us.  New shirts, shorts, running shoes ….uniforms hung in our lockers with our names posted above our numbers.  This was it!!    

Training started with a bang.  It was “2 a-days” for the first 2 weeks and fitness was key.  We had three weeks to get in the exact shape the coaches wanted us in, and we had no classes yet so they had the whole day to keep us and work us.  It was tough, but we learned to work together as a team and the hard work started right along with the memories on the first night, the first game vs. Richmond, VA.  Brought on the field as a substitute I was able to finish a deflection and score!  It was a dream start to the season.

First Goal

 As the season progressed I made the travel team and provided a couple assists and one more goal along the way.  But, I struggled in practice.  The coaches wanted something different from me than I was used to and I struggled with understanding and putting into practice their style of play.  I have continued to work hard and I have a lot of hope for the future.  But, it is mentally and physically tough grind every day.  Sometimes the grind wears on your confidence and with a big team of all very qualified players confidence is key.  It is important to mentally overcome challenges and  keep working hard. 

Training during season did not let up.  We trained from 7:30 am – 11:00 am 5 days a week, and then you go to class.  We train with weights and soccer year round.  Our class schedule is arranged around practice but we then have to attend study hall for 5 hours per week and arrange homework around travel.  Division 1 sports are a full time job.  A job I willingly signed on for and worked hard to achieve but it requires organization, balance and hard work.  Because not only are you trying to earn your spot on the field, you have to maintain your grades and not let struggles on the field interfere with class and the same with class struggles they can’t interfere with the team.  There is a ton of support from tutors and study groups to help keep you on track but you have to be willing to seek them out.   The team participates in tons of volunteer and community events and sometime just certain players do.  I worked the Fill the Boot event at the Honda Center this year and helped with Residential and regular soccer day camps.   Most days you are physically exhausted and all you want to do is go back to your dorm and sleep but you can’t you have to remember why you are there and that is to first and foremost get an education that will carry you through life.  So, you wear your soccer clothes 24/7, wrap your hair in bun and no makeup and somehow carry your tired legs to study hall to make sure your grades are where they need to be. 

It is tiring but it also comes with tremendous pay off.  I have made some of the best friends in my life.  We live, eat, sleep, study, train, travel and spend any free second together.  Your team mates are 100% your family and support system away from home.   Our team had an incredible season.  We won the Big West Conference, Big West Tournament and went on to play in the NCAA Tournament.  The roller coaster of emotions to be ranked 25th in the Nation and watching the NCAA draw after just winning the Big West Championship to the next week losing to USC after double OT in penalty kicks in the NCAA first round was incredible.  The thrill of winning and agony of defeat doesn’t even touch how emotional this journey is.  

10 years ago when I signed to play with my first club team I only dreamed that one day I would be able to stand proud at the end of my Freshman year of college stating I made my dreams a reality.  I was playing for a Division 1 team that was ranked 25th in that Nation for coaches that were pushing my skill level to a new area.   I was a Champion, I scored my first college goal at my first game, I have trained hard and pushed myself harder than I knew possible, went to the NCAA tournament and just last night found out I was also named to the Commissioners Honor Roll for maintaining my grades through it all.  An accomplishment I am very proud of as I pursue my career choice to be an Elementary school teacher. 

We practiced for the last time today for Spring.  But, the game never ends … I am already training with the WPSL team  I am playing on this summer.   It will end in July – just in time for Captain’s practice at Fullerton to start.  Summer means staying in shape, improving skill and confidence and working a full time job around everything else.    It is not easy – but nothing worth anything ever is. 

- Brooke is also daughter of our once bookkeeper and still awesome advisor to our board members, Shellee Thomas.