There seems to exist something existentially magical about standing underneath the bright lights of Harder Stadium. An intoxicating aroma of freshly cut grass wafts over Meredith Field and dormant stands eagerly anticipate the imminent roar of an oncoming crowd.
Only a select few student athletes are fortunate enough to call this hallowed ground home and among those is none other than UCSB women’s soccer player, sophomore defender Sydney Fuertes.
Fuertes began her soccer career in elementary school when her best friend, who was playing in the American Youth Soccer Organization, or AYSO, introduced her to the sport.
Fuertes continued to play through high school and was a third team All-Orange County selection from 2010-2013 before she finally committed to becoming a Gaucho.
From the moment her collegiate career began, Fuertes’ talent was evident. She started in 15 out of 16 matches in her first season and became an integral part of a defense that tallied an incredible nine shutouts in only 19 games. This year Fuertes has continued to solidify her defensive role on the team and has started every game.
“Sydney is a very intelligent and skilled soccer player,” Head Coach Paul Stumpf said. “She plays center back, center mid, she can really do it all.”
Statistics have a tendency to be read and re-read, analyzed and over-analyzed, but in the end it is the person and not the numbers that make Sydney Fuertes truly exceptional.
A leader by nature, Fuertes exemplifies what it truly means to take on this role. Too often leadership is mistakenly reserved for those who promote ostentatious displays and brash words. However, the true illustration of what it means to be a leader is hidden in the repeated actions that make others want to follow in their footsteps. Day in and day out, Fuertes demonstrates this inherent quality by showing up to each practice with a grin and giving everything to the game she loves.
“I believe I am a leader and I like to lead by example,” Fuertes said. “I am smart both on the field and off the field. It can be hard to juggle the social and academic aspects of your life, but you have to love what you do. If you don’t love it then why do you do it?”
It is just as important to excel in the classroom as it is to excel on the field, and in this way Fuertes defines what it means to be a genuine student athlete. Majoring in pharmacology with the hopes of becoming a pharmaceutical scientist, she labors tirelessly to perfect her craft off the field.
Perhaps the most inspiring thing about Fuertes however, is her perseverance. A severe ankle sprain sidelined her at the end of last season, which in turn made her miss the final three games of conference play. As anybody who follows sports can tell you, an injury can hamper even the most promising career.
Yet this setback did not deter Fuertes who fully recovered and was named starting defender in all 20 games so far this season. Fuertes led a defensive unit that did not allow more than three goals in a single game all season and held opponents to one or fewer goals in a game 10 times.
“It was hard to watch those four games on the sideline last season and know that I couldn’t directly help the team,” Fuertes said. “I want my teammates to remember me as a leader who not only helped them on the field, but off of it as well.”
Even through injury, Fuertes kept her focus on the team and motivated from afar as the squad continued their campaign. This display of selflessness in a time of such frustration reveals not only her patience and heart, but also gives the model example of what it means to be a teammate.
As the clock expires on her sophomore season on the UCSB women’s soccer team, Fuertes shifts her view to the upcoming potential of the young team.
She will set out to accomplish her primary goals of making the Big West Conference Tournament and appearing in the NCAA Championships. Off the field she focuses on holding the big sister role and making sure she is there for the people in her life that she most cares about.
Fuertes has regularly demonstrated what it means to be a leader and the hard-working competitive spirit extends beyond the field and into the classroom.
She has bounced back from injury with fervor and continually brings enthusiasm to everything she does. No matter where the future may lead her, know that Sydney Fuertes will do great things.
“She is a phenomenal kid and I don’t use that word very lightly,” Stumpf said. “Every day she shows up with a bright and positive attitude and always seems to have a smile on her face. She is going to be a leader on this team for the rest of her time here.”
A version of this article appeared on page 12 of October 30, 2014’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.