For freshman midfielder Sofia Pavon, the game of soccer has always come naturally.
From the backyard of her Chicago home to the sleek turf on the Mount Vernon Campus, the two-time Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week has almost always had a ball at her feet.
“I started playing when I was one or two,” Pavon said. “My mom would say that I was always playing with my sisters. We’d always chase each other around and do that kind of thing.”
After that early introduction, Pavon was often ready to play with players beyond her years. The north side of Chicago is known for intense high school competition and talent, yet Pavon was dominant from the start of her campaign at Lane Tech High School in the heart of the city.
Playing up as a freshman, Pavon earned all-state honors from 2012‒2014, and was one of the captains of her team in the 2014 season. She also played for the F.C. United club team, one of the best club soccer programs in the state of Illinois.
“Growing up, we didn’t always have the same opportunities as other kids. So, it’s a good thing my mom put me in positions to have opportunities and gave me the chance to do things like playing against girls who were really good,” Pavon said. “That improved my skills so much more.”
In her first year as a Colonial, Pavon has again been thrown into the mix with more senior teammates. She has started 12 games, tied with classmate Dani Frese for the most of any freshman player, all but the Colonials’ first two contests.
She was inserted into the starting 11 for GW’s home opener against East Carolina and played 54 minutes.
“It was terrifying,” Pavon said. “Some of these girls are six feet tall, and I’m about 5’4″ or 5’5” on a good day, so it can be intimidating. But also it’s awesome because you get to play against girls who are older and faster and it makes you so much better.”
She might have felt scared, but Pavon has been outstanding and has played fearlessly on the pitch. She has scored three huge goals, including the winning penalty kick in overtime against conference foe La Salle on Oct. 8, and had a breakout game where she scored both of GW’s goals in a 2‒0 win over UMBC on Sept. 24.
She has helped key nine consecutive wins, setting a program record. The Colonials have reached 10 wins for a second consecutive season, a feat not achieved since 2002‒2003.
“It’s been fun,” Pavon said of the winning streak. “Getting those first two goals [against UMBC] really helped me confidence-wise to be like, ‘I can do this. I can score.’ I love it, personally. Scoring goals is always fun but it’s even better when your teammates have that confidence in you to score.”
Although a GW uniform has suited her well so far, Pavon very nearly could have ended up as a Wisconsin Badger. Big 10 schools in the Midwest often seek out prime recruits in the Chicago area, where the locality often becomes a selling point to young high school players.
In addition to Wisconsin’s prestigious soccer program, Pavon was also attracted to its high-ranked business school, but said she ultimately chose GW because she felt like it was a better school, would do more to improve her job prospects after college and offered better exposure as a school in D.C.
Though winning helps, Pavon said that the support she gets from her teammates and coaches at GW makes her feel like she made the right choice. She said that head coach Sarah Barnes’ decision to start her so quickly during the season, in particular, improved her confidence. She has been able to have both instant success and a safe learning environment in her rookie year.
“My teammates make me so much better,” she said. “Every day they’re pushing me and giving me advice, so they definitely help get me acclimated to everything. At the beginning, it was hard because if I would make a mistake, it would feel like, ‘The freshman’s messing up.’ But they definitely don’t make it feel like that. They make me feel very comfortable, and have made it a lot easier for me.”
Following the Colonials’ 1-0 win over Richmond Sunday afternoon, in which Pavon scored the game-winner off a set piece, Barnes also lauded the rookie’s ability to step up and produce under pressure.
“It’s a special quality for an athlete to really feel confident in those moments when everything is on the line, and we have a couple kids who can do that, and [Sofia] is one of them,” Barnes said. “That’s harder to do when you’re younger and she’s had no problem with it.”
Pavon is happy that she has played well, but she said the team goals matter more to her than any individual recognition.
“If the team wins, then I’m happy about it,” she said.
From the streets of Chicago to the fields of Mount Vernon, Pavon has a track record of making things happen fast. Now, as the season wraps up and the Colonials eye a potential NCAA bid, it is time to see if the mark she makes might be a lasting one.