It all happens in the blink of an eye. The checkered soccer ball is quickly pushed forward. The ball is crossed at the 30-yard mark from the right side of the field, over to the left side, where a player in a red practice jersey who has been sprinting from the midfield line meets the ball.
She battles for position against one of her teammates in the gray practice jersey, gains sole position of the ball, jukes another player inside the penalty box and takes a shot. The soccer ball is nailed to the top right corner of the goal.
Alex Neal scores. It’s something she’s been able to do pretty consistently so far this season. As a freshman, she’s second on her team in goals so far this season and third in both shots and shots on goal. Her performance in games this season, Neal said, has been the product of hard work in practice.
“Whenever I am on the field I try my best all the time,” Neal said while sitting on the bench, unlacing her cleats. “Whether it is a practice, or a game, I make sure I give it all I have. I am happy as long as I know I have done my best.”
Neal, a Lake Villa, Ill., native, was a highly decorated high school soccer player for Lakes Community High School, where she was a three-time All-Area and All-Conference selection and where she set a single season scoring record her senior year. It is her experience and her history of success that have helped her acclimate to college-level play.
“Alex has played on a great high school team as well as a tremendous club team who won a national championship,” women’s soccer head coach Tanya Vogel said. “She is used to playing at a high level and she brought that to our team during training as well as games.”
Neal’s play has earned her accolades at the college level as well. The freshman midfielder has been named Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week twice so far this season, once after scoring a game-winning goal Sept. 19 against Delaware and again Oct. 4 after scoring both of her team’s goals in a 2-1 win over Temple.
But along with the success has come increased attention from opponents looking to stop the GW freshman.
“It is a little scary when you are out there but I like the challenge,” Neal said of the attention she gets from other teams. “There is some pressure but I feel like that is self-pressure because I expect that out of myself.”
Although the transition from high school to college can be challenging both on and off the field, the soft-spoken freshman has been able to deal with the obstacles that have come her way. She said that soccer in college is a lot more physical than in high school, but she credits her teammates for helping to ease her transition.
“A lot of my friends had stories about seniors on the team picking on them,” she said. “It hasn’t been that way for me. I can always talk to my teammates because they have been through this process before me and that has helped make the transition easier.”
Making that transition to Division I soccer so quickly has turned Neal into an asset Vogel looks forward to having on her team for a few more years.
“Alex is a quiet girl. She leads by example,” Vogel said. “It is awesome to know that I will have her on my team for the next three years.”