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Wheeler reflects on journey to Stanford women’s soccer

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Freshman midfielder Astrid Wheeler was the No. 1 recruit in the class of 2020, and is currently part of the dominant freshman class hoping to continue the strong tradition of the Stanford women’s soccer program. Wheeler recently scored her first goal for the Cardinal. The Daily’s Jenna Ruzekowicz sat down with Wheeler to discuss her journey to Stanford, her experiences thus far and her long term aspirations in the sport. 

This transcript has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

The Stanford Daily (TSD): We’re gonna start a little bit before your college career. You were the number-one-ranked recruit in 2020, and you’ve represented the United States at the U-15, U-17, U-19, and U-20 levels. What has your experience been like so far with U.S. soccer?

Astrid Wheeler (AW): Being on a national team for such a long time, from a pretty young age, has been an awesome experience for me because I’ve gotten so much better, and I’ve gotten to travel the world. It’s an experience that not a lot of kids my age have gotten to have. I’ve been all over the world, and I feel like it’s helped me improve so much. And it’s actually helped me a lot with my transition to Stanford because I’ve played with a lot of the girls that are here. I made some of my best friends on that team from girls all over the country. So I just think that that experience has been great for me. I’ve developed as a player and having international experience under my belt has definitely helped me with the college transition.

TSD: Can you give us a brief recap of how exactly you got to the Farm, and why you ended up choosing Stanford in general, as opposed to any other college?

AW: Yeah, so as the top recruit, and someone on the national team, all college coaches are coming to your club games and international team games. So I was really fortunate that I had a lot of interest, but I mean, after my recruiting trips, choosing Stanford was a no-brainer for me. The combination of athletics and academics at Stanford is unmatched. I would say that I’m a very high-achieving person, so I was really drawn into the possibility of just being surrounded by so much excellence —whether that be in the classroom or on the field or just really anywhere on campus because I think everyone here is just super talented and hardworking. And I feel like everyone’s also really supportive of everyone else. So it’s super special to be part of a community like that. I’m from Georgia, so this is a really nice change of scenery on campus with gorgeous weather. It was a pretty easy decision for me to decide. 

TSD: So you’re here now and you’ve played 11 games. How has the adaptation to college soccer in general gone for you, especially coming all the way from Georgia? What changes have you noticed in the game and with the level of competition, versus club and U.S. level? 

AW:  Yeah, I would say that in comparison to club and high school soccer, this is such a big step up. The speed of play, the caliber and everyone’s soccer IQ is just so much higher. Everything moves at a much faster pace, but I am super grateful that I’ve had the experience with the national team, because playing internationally is a lot different than playing club soccer, so I think that I’ve been able to adapt pretty quickly because of that experience. But I’m obviously still working, I have a lot of room to make up, and I have to keep getting better. I think West-Coast soccer is more physical than East Coast, so I think getting used to that has been an adaptation for me.

TSD: What is your favorite part about Stanford thus far? 

AW: I would just say soccer because being on Zoom, and because of all the COVID restrictions, I haven’t gotten to experience really anything else. I think the Zoom classes and stuff have been great, but [I] haven’t really gotten that full in-person class experience yet. The living situation is pretty nice. We’re all living together as a team, so that’s awesome because in a typical year we wouldn’t. Because of COVID, we’re all together, and it’s really fun to live in the same hall. We’re roommates with each other as well. Being able to be with the team and train with the team, as well as having travel trips, has been awesome.

TSD: Relatively speaking, in comparison to last season, your team has had a pretty slow start. However, a lot of the underclassmen — including yourself — have really begun to make a name on the field. How do you reflect on this season so far, and where do you think this group of freshmen can take the team in the next four years?

AW: Yes, I think it’s really encouraging actually how well the underclassmen have been able to perform this season because obviously last season there were a lot of really great players. I think the ability to have new players come in and step up, as well as the upperclassmen being leaders for us, being able to take their encouragement and advice, is great. Also I think we have a lot of really confident underclassmen, and I think that that’s really important and really special because there are sophomores and freshmen on this team who have the ability to take this program to a different level going forward. I think it’s really encouraging because all of us going out there are confident in our ability; that’s probably the most important thing because we all have each other’s back, and we just know if we go out there and do our best we’re going to be able to make an impact. On our team right now, our freshmen class has nine players; it’s the largest class within the team. All of us knowing that we’re capable of bringing everything to the games and practice and improving every day is going to be super important for us moving forward.

TSD: What impact do you think COVID has had, especially on this freshman class coming in? You talked about the fact that you’re all living together and how that’s a new experience as opposed to being scattered across the frosh class in dorms, but at the same time, you are living on campus without any other freshmen, and you’re stuck taking Zoom classes like [non-athletes]. What impact do you think COVID has had in general with your class and on your team as well? 

AW: Yeah, I think it’s actually really interesting because in the fall we came here for like one month, and then some girls stayed for the entirety of the fall but most returned home. Everyone was pretty scattered throughout the fall. Now that we’re here, since January, it’s just been awesome because in that time apart, we all missed each other so much, we just wanted to be back together and on the field. So I think especially for our class, because all the other classes have had years together here at Stanford, we are just so excited to be at Stanford and be together. I think our class is so close, and we love living together. I think it’s made the whole team appreciate being together and being on campus and appreciate that Stanford is the best place that we could be. So even though we have all these restrictions and there weren’t other people here until recently, we were and are just so happy to be together. It was obviously a strange way to start college for me and for my class, but our administration and our coaches and everyone on our team has made it like the best that they could for us, and we’re so appreciative of that.

TSD: Can you give us a little insight of what the day to day restrictions actually look like? How frequently are you being tested, and who are you allowed to see?

AW: It’s definitely been strange in that we are pretty much only seeing each other. We do see the other athletes coming in and out, but on our team we’re really committed to testing negative and being super safe. We’re not hanging out in other people’s rooms or with other teams. We can go into our own team rooms, but we’re not going to see other teams. We get tested twice a week now, but it was three times a week until recently. We have to get screened before we go into any athletic building. We’re just really sticking with our own team because that’s the safest way to do it. Stanford, it has its rules, and we’ve made them even stricter for within our team so that we can be as healthy as we can. Thus far we’ve done an awesome job, and I’m really proud of everyone just for sticking to it, wearing a mask and being safe. We have a small team already numbers wise, so we really can’t afford for any type of outbreak. 

TSD: You recently scored your first goal as a Cardinal player. Can you walk us through that exact moment, what you were feeling and seeing on the field? What did that mean to you?

AW: It was honestly such an amazing experience. I just remember [sophomore midfielder] Paige [Rubinstein] got the ball in the corner and she crossed it in. The defender headed it out, and I was on top of the box, and hit a volley into the bottom corner. I put my arms up and my teammates all came. It was such an exciting moment for me because it’s super cool to be able to score for your high school and your club team, even for the USA, but I hadn’t scored for this team yet. That instilled some more confidence in me because I know now that I can be a goal scorer for this team. I want to help this team and make a name for myself here. Being able to score is going to be a big part of that. I’m looking to get some more [goals] and get some assists as well so other people can score some more.

TSD: You’re playing amongst some of the best college players in the Pac-12, players who have been drafted into the NWSL and players who are frequently called into international camps. Former Stanford players are currently competing in nearly every corner of the world. What are your long-term goals, and where do you see yourself in, say, five years? 

AW: Yeah, and that’s a great question. I think right now I am so inspired by the girls that have come before me and even the girls that I’m currently playing with. Catarina Macario and Sophia Smith, they’re on the full national team and they’re playing professionally. Maddie Haley and Kiki Pickett, they’ve both been drafted, so it’s awesome to have the experience with them. I’ve talked to some of the former players a lot about what their journey was like and how they made the decision of where they wanted to go. Right now I’m still pretty undecided about which league I would want to go into. But for sure, my goal is to be on that national team, because I am so grateful for all my experiences from the youth national team levels, but the end goal is to make that full team. 

Wheeler and Stanford women’s soccer (5-5-2, 4-3-1 Pac-12), will take on No. 4 UCLA (11-1-1, 8-1-0 Pac-12) on Sunday, April 11 at 2 p.m. PT. The game can be watched on the Pac-12 Network.

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Jenna Ruzekowicz is a staff writer in the sports section. She is a sophomore from Syracuse, New York majoring in Computer Science. Her teams include: Portland Thorns, Arsenal and Man City. Contact her at jruzekowicz 'at' stanforddaily.com.