For the Love of the Game: Male Student Practices with the Ohio Women’s Soccer Team

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A love for a game often captures an athlete in a bind that is difficult to break, so difficult that when the time comes to break the bond, it becomes excruciatingly challenging. 

Logan Riely eats, sleeps and breathes soccer. In high school, his schedule was packed with soccer functions until 8:00 every night. From high school to club, Riely never had a break to slow down.
Several Division-I schools had an eye on the forward, but injuries during his junior year hurt his entire recruitment, dropping the number of schools to three: University of North Carolina-Charleston, Eckerd, and Washington and Lee.
Riely had a huge decision to make. He applied to 12 different universities, keeping in mind that he could walk onto anywhere he applied. His aspirations to become a photojournalist also played a key role in his decision.
At the top of his list was Ohio University. He wanted to come to Ohio to study photojournalism in Ohio's School of Visual Communication. Ohio, though, does not have a men’s soccer program, so Riely decided to give up the game he loved to chase his dream career at Ohio University.
Coming from St. Xavier High School in Louisville, Ky., the decision to quit competitive soccer was not easy. Nationally, St. Xavier has a reputation as one of the best soccer programs. This past year, the Tigers were ranked fifth nationally.
St. Xavier is also well known in the Kentucky Division-I state playoffs. They not only made the state championship three consecutive years, but completely demolished teams by a combined score, 16-4.
College coaches took notice of what St. Xavier's players had to offer. Six players from the last year’s class are now playing Division-I at the collegiate level. While his teammates chose soccer, Riely stuck with his decision to attend Ohio University.
At Ohio, there are chances to play men's club and intramural soccer, but Riely wanted more. He wanted to have the soccer schedule of a Division-I athlete. He didn’t want to completely give up the sport he loved.
The summer after graduation, Riely’s dad suggested emailing Ohio Coach Stacy Strauss about practicing with her women’s team. Riely followed through in the pursuit of his dream of being a part of a Division-I program.
“I just emailed Stacy that I played soccer at St. ‘X’ and played club and all this kind of stuff. I wondered if I could be a practice player,” Riely said. “She said, ‘Well, we've never had one. It's an idea.'"
“I was pretty surprised that no one's ever done it before,” said Riely.
Riely called Strauss before the preseason to check in on his status with the team. Before Strauss said yes, she had to lay down the groundwork.
“She just kind of wanted to talk to me about who I was, where I'm coming from, my soccer background,” Riely said. “Why do you want to do this, and then some more things about, ‘you need to be dedicated to it. You can't just show up when you want, and you have to be able to play with them and mesh well with them.’”
From that moment, Riely was a part of the team. He received the team gear, was treated equally by Strauss and the players and attended team meals.
The transition for Riely wasn’t easy, though.
He moved from an all-boys, Catholic school to playing with all girls at Ohio. From the playing style to the different humor, it took some time for Riely to adjust to the girls’ style of practice.
In his first practice, Strauss yelled at him for leaving too much distance between himself and the girls in drills. Riely admits that he, “[shies] away from contact with them, in hopes that [he] won't injure them.”
At St. Xavier, he was the second leading scorer on the team, but was asked to switch mindsets and play defense for Strauss’ team. Riely acknowledges that he isn’t skilled on the defensive side of the ball, but his speed causes havoc for the girls, something Strauss enjoys.
He’s dedicating his life to be a Division-I athlete, but is not receiving a soccer scholarship. He has to ride his bike to and from practice and knows he will never play in any games. The question is: why does he stick with this huge commitment?
“To keep fit, mainly. I love playing soccer,” Riely said. “It's also a great way to get in with more people, a group of people you can hang out with because I'm coming from a place where I don't know anyone here. No one from my area went here, so it helped me get in with people I enjoy hanging out with and hang out with everyday.”
Friendships and staying fit are not the only pluses of practicing with the women’s team every day. When Strauss puts someone on the team, they know it.
“She has done an amazing job with making me a part of the team by giving me some gear, putting me on the sideline at home games, inviting me to lunches and stuff like that,” Riely said. “She's really done a great job.”
It’s a weird feeling for Riely sitting the bench, knowing his name will never be called. St. Xavier had a 16-man rotation, and Riely was the first player his coach called for off the bench. It’s a sad truth knowing that the only time he will be getting up is to juggle the ball and to shake the opponents’ hands after the game.
From time to time, Riely feels the urge to get back on the field and play the sport he loves. He’ll sometimes slide in a highlight DVD of his senior soccer season, but he turns it off quickly, saddened by the fact he’ll never have one more shot at the back of the net.
But that sadness quickly wanes when he steps back onto the practice field. He has become connected with his new Bobcat teammates; they are a unique group of friends he never would have met had it not been for his dad's advice. Riely continues to play for the love of the game.