When Claire Anderson was beginning her varsity soccer career as a freshman with the Goochland Bulldogs, she recalled being really intimidated at first.
“Everybody was so much older than I was,” she said.
But the girls on the team were so welcoming.
“They were just so nice to me, they were really like a family to me,” she said. “I met my best friends on that team, and we’re still best friends, and we do everything together.”
Being part of Goochland soccer was an amazing experience for Anderson, whose playing career goes all the way back to when she was 4 years old.
Her parents got her started by signing her up for the Goochland United Soccer Association, and then she played for so long that it felt weird to quit or switch to other sports.
“It was just normal for me to have soccer every week,” she said.
Anderson grew up playing on many local Goochland teams, competing in GUSA until she was about 12 years old. She switched to the Richmond Strikers right before she started high school, and she played on several different teams since making the switch, usually competing on multiple teams at a time or guest-playing when she could.
She’s been with the Striker Redbacks for six seasons, really connecting with her teammates, her coach Bill Harding and the assistant coaches. Anderson has also played indoor soccer and sand soccer. She tried a few other sports, but she always came back to soccer.
“When I first started playing, soccer was just something I did. It was normal to me,” she said. “But as I kept doing it and put in the effort and got better, I started to really enjoy it.”
Soccer wasn’t just a sport anymore. It was a lifestyle.
“The more time I spent with my teammates and coaches and the memories we made . . . driving to the games and tournaments and just eating out . . . the rush I felt bringing the ball up the field or going one-on-one with an opposing team member – all of that is what made me fall in love with the game of soccer.”
During games, Anderson was always thinking ahead. She helped direct players so that they could be in the best position possible to make the right plays and get the ball up the field. Her versatility as a player, and her position as a defender, gave her an advantage, as she had a full view of everyone on the field and could make smart decisions for the sake of the team.
“I knew where I needed the ball to go,” Anderson said, “and what players were around me that I had to get around.”
Coaches also called on her and talked through their plans for that practice or that game with her.
“They told me what they wanted from the team,” she said, “and they knew I could push the team to do their best.”
And working with her coaches, she said, helped her excel as a defender.
“They really pushed me to keep practicing and be as aggressive as I could and play the ball and make smart decisions."
Anderson played and started at defender in all four years of her varsity career. She was part of a Goochland girls soccer team that assembled a final record of 12-6 and reached the regional semifinals in 2019.
The season before, she recalled how they overcame a rough start to 2018 and came back to beat their two biggest rivals in Bluestone (3-0) and Prince Edward (4-0).
“It just felt really good when we finally beat them.”
She and her teammates got to hang out all the time during the season. Before their home games, they would always go and get smoothies together, and they would sing and dance together on their way back to the field.
“Anytime I was with my teammates and we were laughing and joking around – during practice or warmups – it was a good time,” she said, adding: “I could have the worst day at school, but I could go to practice and immediately my day would be turned around. . . . They just knew how to make my day better.”
To Anderson, Andrew Hover and Jason Funkhouser were not only really good coaches – they also became really good friends of hers.
“They became people that I could go to outside of soccer, to just talk to and help me in any situation,” she said, adding that here current head soccer coach, Paul Manno, was a great teacher and really saw the potential in her.
"He pushed me to do my best and help bring out the best in others, too," Anderson said. “The coaches were completely dedicated to the team and making sure we succeeded.
"I think everybody saw that in our last scrimmage before we got out of school.”
Going into the spring of 2020, hopes were high.
“We were going to have a really good season,” Anderson said. “After playing those first two scrimmages, anybody who saw us knew that we were going to be aggressive, and we had put in a lot of work in the offseason.
“We had the endurance. We had the training. We were ready.”
And then COVID-19 hit, cutting the season short as the spread of the novel virus across the United States prompted schools to close for the rest of the school year.
When she first heard that they weren’t going to be in school for two weeks, she stayed optimistic that they were still going to have a season.
“But then as soon as they announced that we weren’t going back, soccer was the first thing that popped in my head,” she said. “I realized that I wasn’t going to get to have those memories – have my senior night or have the chance to make it to states or anything.
“I’ve come to terms with it now,” she said. “But every now and then, it still kind of hits me and I get upset all over again.”
The pandemic has motivated Anderson towards her future goals by helping her stay in shape more.
“Soccer has always been such a big part of my life. ... It’s always been my way of exercise and a way to relieve stress,” she said. “Now I’ve had to find other ways to do that.”
She has gone on hikes, on runs around her neighborhood and on walks with her friends. She’s also been playing soccer with a few of her friends.
Anderson will be attending Virginia Tech and plans to major in biology. While she won’t be playing soccer for the college team, she said she’ll probably try out for a club or intramural team.
“Playing soccer has helped me find an outlet for stress,” she said, “and that’s something I’ll carry on to college.”
Soccer helped her realize how important it is to have people whom you trust in your life.
“On the field I need to be able to trust my teammates that they’re going to make the right decision or the right pass or be in the right spot to receive a cross,” she said. “And in life, all relationships are built on trust, and it’s important to surround yourself with people who support your goals and want what’s best for you.”
With the pandemic, it’s been a matter of realizing what you can and can’t control and just worrying about what you can control, Anderson noted.
“None of us could’ve predicted this, that our senior year would end this way,” she said. “There’s nothing we can do, so I would just stay safe and stay inside and keep your head up and just look forward to what’s going to come.”
She’s excited to see what next season will bring for the Goochland Bulldogs.
“Because I’m definitely going to come back and have to watch them.”