In a sports world often dominated by big deals, exaggerated personalities and a variety of scandals, it’s refreshing to remember the true spirit of competition. Abby Roevens, a Metairie native and senior goaltender for the Rhodes College football team, played for the love of the game, and her underdog story is a testament to her tenacity and tenacity.
Roevens, 21, recently capped off her college playing career with a trip to the promised land — the NCAA Women’s Soccer Championship Tournament. But his four-year career at Rhodes has been a roller coaster of challenges, opportunities, injuries and triumphs.
After an outstanding academic and athletic career at Mount Carmel Academy, Roevens enrolled at Rhodes College in Memphis, a Division III school.
“In college, the season is much shorter, the competition is more intense and everything becomes much more important,” she explained. “As a player there is less chance to prove yourself, so every opportunity means more.”
The sport also requires more time, especially in her role as a goalkeeper. Roevens said most of his counterparts are tall and lanky. At 5’4”, she is neither.
“Size matters,” she said. “Most goalkeepers are chosen by genetics.”
But Roevens has intangible assets that contribute to its success. Her coach, Saul Martinez, describes her as an excellent communicator with a high football IQ and a fearless competitor.
“She had a great work ethic and was always ready to get dirty. She always came back. Never gave up,” he said. “As a coach, that’s all you can ask for.”
Roevens said his position also required mental toughness. “For a team sport, it’s very individualistic,” she explained. “Every mistake you make can be the difference between victory and defeat for your team.”
The physical demands also weigh. “Being a goalkeeper is a painful position,” she said. “You sacrifice your body to keep the ball out of goal.”
After gaining limited playing time as a rookie, Roevens earned a starting position the following year. “I played almost 13 minutes that season,” she recalls. She was named an honorable mention to the entire conference team.
Throughout the season, she also dealt with a nagging elbow injury. A painful ligament tear (UCL) forced her to play with a brace and undergo a series of injections.
Then, during off-season training, she injured her elbow again. The second tear in her UCL would require surgery. Then, three months into his recovery, something else derailed his plans – a global pandemic.
“I was still pushing to come back and play when Rhodes canceled all fall sports and closed campus to everyone,” she said.
Although disappointed, Roevens said the weather during Covid had had its benefits. “I was able to… fully recover from my elbow injury.”
In January 2021, plans for a Covid-restructured spring season brought hope. But 10 days into team practices, Roevens dove for a ball and suffered a dislocated left shoulder; a torn labrum (damage to the soft cartilage that lines the hip joint cavity); and a Hills-Sachs lesion, which occurs when the humerus bone protrudes from the socket. Roevens would need surgery. Again.
“It was the hardest recovery as I had just reached the top of the mountain overcoming my elbow injury and going through the isolation of the Covid shutdowns,” she said.
For the first time in her career, she will miss playing time. Her senior season was in jeopardy. Some of those close to her recommended that she give up football to focus on her rehabilitation and graduation, but Roevens was determined to play.
After five months of intense physical therapy, Roevens returned to the field to start her final season. Even as his body healed, his game and confidence declined.
“Part of my training is touching the ground, diving. I hadn’t done that for so long, when the season started I felt like I had lost my edge. As if nothing clicked, but I had to be confident that I would continue to improve.
She did it. And his team too. In mid-September, the team celebrated a conference win that Roevens called “the team’s ultimate win”.
The Rhodes team started a Cinderella run to the conference finals. After a close series of matches and an upset for the number one seed, Rhodes won the Southern Athletic Association Tournament Championship for the first time in program history, earning an automatic bid for the Championship Tournament. NCAA Division III women’s soccer.
Rhodes would fall in the NCAA first round to a bigger and faster team, the nationally ranked University of Chicago. Despite the early exit, Rovens called the playoff experience a dream. “Being the third team in program history to reach the NCAA Tournament is so special, but getting there after all the struggles my teammates and I have faced over the past two years makes this accomplishment even more significant. “
Now that football is over, Rovens looks to his future. After graduating in the spring, Rovens will use her degree in computer science in her new job at General Motors in Austin, Texas.
“I’m thrilled to discover a new city and start a new chapter in my life,” she said. “I will definitely miss my friends and teammates the most. They have become part of my family.
Roevens said leaving Rhodes was bittersweet, but she is proud of what she has achieved in her four years.
“Looking back, I’m very proud of my perseverance and my fight,” she said. “I never let anyone or anything take away or diminish my love and passion for the game.”