Story by Kurt Miller
Ten years ago, Allie Brodsky roamed the sidelines of MacKenzie Field cheering on her sister who wore the number 12 for the Kalamazoo College women's soccer team. Brodsky's connection with the college developed early, and when it came time for her to decide her own path with college looming, choosing K seemed like the natural choice.
But that simply wasn't the case.
"Since my sister went here, I thought I didn't want to go here," Brodsky said. "She had a really great experience, but I kind of wanted my own experience. For some reason I thought that coming to K I'd be following too much in her footsteps. Obviously I was totally wrong."
Making a tough choice between Kalamazoo, Chicago, Denison, Wooster and Cornell, Brodsky joined the 2013 Kalamazoo women's soccer recruiting class of 11 players, ultimately following her sister's legacy and sharing a connection by choosing the number 12 on the field.
Expectations and ambitions were high for the group heading into 2013, which included three of Brodsky's club teammates and her best friend Suzanne Miller, as the team hoped to right the ship of a sixth place finish in 2012. But sometimes it's impossible to prepare for the unexpected.
In just the fourth game of the season at Olivet, Brodsky's knee gave out. She tore her ACL. Her freshman year took a turn she'd never experienced.
"That was my first ever serious injury," she said. "It was a big change for me going from someone who's used to playing 90 minutes and then being someone who's sitting on the bench having to readjust my image of how I could help the team.
"That whole season for me was very mentally tough. Dealing with an injury and being a freshman in college—that's a lot to deal with. It helped me grow a lot as a person. I found myself more independent and being able to overcome certain things away from home."
Brodsky's individual trials and tribulations early in her college experience were matched by the team's performance. The Hornets ended 2013 with a 7-12 overall record—back in the bottom half of the MIAA with a sixth place finish.
The feeling of discouragement never settled in, though.
"We always knew we wanted to do something great—we just needed the time to grow and create the team we always knew was possible."
Just a year later, the level of greatness Brodsky and her teammates hoped to achieve reached heights the program hadn't seen since the year 2000. Finishing second in the MIAA regular season and cruising to a 5-1 win over Alma in the first round of the 2014 postseason tournament in front of a ruckus crowd, a game against Hope was all that stood between the Hornets and the NCAA tournament. But an MIAA tournament championship wasn't in the cards.
Neither was dwelling on their shortcomings. They'd been through trying times, and the lessons learned in their freshman season always sat in the back of their minds.
"We all came from different winning programs but that first season proved to be a self-reflective season," Brodsky said. "Not playing in the tournament at the end of the year and having the season just be over after one game is not how you want your season to end. That really keeps you level-headed. You're playing for the fact that you want to keep playing, and you want to be together with this group of girls as long as you can. Losing is the biggest modesty you can ever get."
Now, more than ever, Brodsky, the senior class and the team as a whole are playing to extend their careers. In Brodsky's words, they're playing until someone tells them they can't play any longer.
The group made a statement in the 2016 regular season winning its first MIAA championship since 1999, but Brodsky, a two-year captain, hopes to fulfill a promise she and Miller made to her dad when they first stepped on campus.
"He made us promise to make it to the MIAA tournament twice and win it once. He just said 'get that in your mind right now because it's going to happen.'"
Three consecutive MIAA tournament appearances later, she's checked off the first part of the promise but only one opportunity remains to follow through on the second part.
"As a group, we really want to go onto NCAAs and see how far we can take this. Coach has mention that, yes, we get to practice this week, but we want to practice next week when NCAAs are too. We want to go as far as we possibly can, but I mean, I don't want to jinx anything," Brodsky said with a laugh.