After finishing classes and four (or more) years of education, the transition to the real world from college is often a daunting endeavor. What do you want to do with your life? What would you be willing to do, even if it’s not your dream, and how in the world do I find a job or get someone to hire me without 3-5 years of experience?
Elisabeth Sullivan faced the same dilemma after finishing classes at Mississippi State last fall and ending her senior season on the soccer team, a career which by the end left her as the all-time leading goal scorer in Bulldog history.
Over Christmas holidays with her family in Memphis, she was forced by time into a quicker decision than most post-grads. She could spend the spring doing her student teaching, thus fulfilling the requirements of her elementary education degree, or she could take a chance and enter the draft, hoping she’d be picked and given the opportunity to have a career playing professional soccer.
But that was the problem. She hoped to be picked, but she didn’t know. When she ultimately decided to declare for the draft on December 30th, it was barely two weeks before the draft itself took place.
It was thanks to her coaches at MSU, head coach Aaron Gordon and assistant Phil Casella, that ‘Sully’ eventually decided to give it a shot.
“I honestly had been thinking about it for a while because Aaron and Phil had been talking to me about it, really trying to push me to do it because they thought it was a great opportunity,” she said. “So I just prayed about it, talked to my family and friends about it and decided, ‘I’m gonna do it.’”
But as the selections started, her hope admittedly started to diminish.
“I watched it with my family for two and a half hours and I was like, ‘This is not gonna happen.’ And I was totally fine if it didn’t. I’d go ahead and graduate and get a job. That’s what I need to do anyway later in life.
“I just kind of walked away. In the middle of the fourth round I left, stopped watching it. Then Aaron texted me and said ‘Bam!’ That was the only word he said. I was like, oh my gosh, so I ran to my computer and it said, ‘Portland Thorns take Elisabeth Sullivan.’”
Just as soon as she had nearly given up hope, the dream she had only halfway allowed herself to imagine had come true.
And the feeling of seeing her name on the draft show, she said, was plenty surreal.
“Very weird,” she said. “But very cool.”
This reality is not one she had guessed would happen when she began her career at MSU, but like many students in their various studies and professions, work in her final year at school had sharpened and honed the skills she needed.
When Gordon took over at MSU last spring, he saw a talented player in Sullivan. Over the course of the year, she said, he helped her develop with constant pointers, adjustments and tips.
And oddly enough, it turns out her class schedule led to some important moments, too. On Wednesdays last fall, she had class during practice. To fill in for the missed time, Sullivan would meet and train with Casella earlier in the day.
“I would just work on turning, shooting, accuracy,” she said. “I think that really helped me.”
It prepared her for what’s coming, too. She’ll head to Portland soon to begin training for the April-August season. The preseason schedule is a grueling one, working every morning and every afternoon in skills training, conditioning and team practices.
Training she’s already been preparing for as she works in Starkville.
Of course, Sullivan hasn’t abandoned her studies. With the season ending in August, she will immediately return to do her student teaching, hopefully at home in Memphis, and graduate from MSU in December with both a degree and a season of professional soccer on her résumé.
She doesn’t know what will happen or where her future will take her. She may become a star, get traded or finish after her first season. But, like any recent graduate, she’s excited to see what happens.
The hope, as always, is that her four years at MSU have her prepared. So far, it seems that way.