Soccer’s Hall made final four her home

By Emerald Gao

It takes years to master the skills of any sport, and most athletes spend their careers perfecting one position that shows off all their individual talents. For fourth-year Sally Hall, however, the dilemma was somewhat different. Excelling at right winger, right fullback, and central defense, she could not be pegged down to just one spot on the soccer field. So Hall did the only natural thing: She perfected all three.

Hall’s versatility was merely the starting point for a success story that saw her play an integral part of one of the program’s most successful four-year periods ever. During her time with the Maroons, the squad made two national championship runs, with the Durham, NC native being named to various nationwide and regional honor rolls. Throughout her four-year stint, Hall’s ability to adapt to the demands of multiple positions set her apart on a roster brimming with talent since the beginning.

“When we recruited her, we knew she could play in the midfield, she could play wide, she could play in the back, and as a freshman, we basically looked at her athleticism and the way she played and thought she’d be great at marking, so we played her quite a bit in the back,” head coach Amy Reifert said. “I’m not sure she came here thinking she was a defender…but she came here with a pretty versatile skill set.”

Making the transition from her natural position in the midfield, Hall has spent most of her career in the back. She began staking out her territory as a fullback but made the switch over to central defense halfway through this season after first-year Kaitlin Meyer suffered a broken leg. With the move inside, Hall was forced to step up to new challenges while continuing to play an immense leadership role as a tri-captain.

“Coach tried to train me there [in the middle of] freshman year, but I didn’t play there because we had two amazing center backs,” Hall said. “It was very difficult [moving] because I was constantly thinking, ‘Where should I be, where should I be?’ and then, ‘Where should I be in relation to the other players?’ It was pretty hard, but the number-one thing that Coach stressed was communication, and that’s definitely the most important thing.”

The emphasis on team communication has always been a trademark of Reifert’s teams, and with 14 seniors graduating at the end of the 2005 season, the rebuilding process would require a lot of it. An all-new—and very young—back five emerged this year with plenty of promise and Hall at the helm.

“If you watched her, she set an example because she showed that she worked so hard and this meant so much to her,” Reifert said. “Given that you liked Sally as a person and you value her friendship, I think that that translated into ‘Oh my god, I better work as hard as Sally does.’ She set a great example as a leader, and she’s a person you’d just like to follow naturally.”

Hall’s dedication on the pitch stemmed from a love of the game that transcended the team’s double heartbreak on the national stage and helped her recover from a torn ACL sustained in the spring of her second year while studying abroad.

“It was the most frustrating experience ever,” said Hall of her injury. “I was doing really well in rehab when I first got surgery, but then I had to return to France to finish all my classes. I developed tendonitis because I think I was trying to do too much on it. I would try to walk to school, which was 45 minutes away, because I couldn’t find a gym. It would not go away, and I was scared that I had torn it again or something.”

Although the injury hadn’t completely regressed, the tendonitis continued throughout her comeback, which started in mid-October of her third season. There were doubts as to her availability, but Hall was determined to shrug off the handicap.

“She said, ‘I just want to play,’” Reifert remembers, after the coach asked Hall if she was ready to take the field in her first appearance after the injury. With Hall back on the field, the result for the team was another appearance in the final four. The result for Hall? A goal in the 2–1 victory over Wheaton that sent the Maroons to the tournament finals in Hall’s home state of North Carolina.

“We got to go to my house and have Thanksgiving, and it’d always been my dream to have my teammates over to my house—I still can’t believe it happened—because I was always so jealous of the people whose houses we got to go to,” Hall said.

There was a sense of destiny for the team that year, with 14 seniors about to graduate and a hometown setting for Hall, but their final four opponents were too much to handle. In her final season with Chicago, the team fell short of making the NCAAs, but Hall closed out her career with NSCAA All-Region honors and a spot on the All-American team. Hall now helps coach JV girls’ soccer at the Lab School and sees soccer as a staple of life.

“Whatever I do, I would definitely like to join a team somewhere and continue playing because it’s a major stress reliever and a great way to make new friends,” Hall said. She has applied for the Peace Corps but hopes to spend a year abroad, using her French language skills to the fullest extent.

For someone who has mastered the art of communication on a soccer field, it’ll be a whole new challenge.