New life as a phoenix

Not many women athletes can say they are part of the top two percent to receive a Division-1 scholarship to play the sport they love.  

With dedication and support, defender Kerian Neal received a full ride scholarship to the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay this Spring semester.

Neal has been working on her career path in criminal justice when she received the good news.

“When I got the scholarship, it was pure joy. It’s also a big deal because I will be the first generation to go to a university. So I have to be a big role model to my younger siblings,” Neal said.

Neal didn’t always know she wanted to play soccer. This dream life in sports peaked when she let go of her six-year-old piano and enrolled in her first soccer class.

“I just loved it. I loved the atmosphere and the smell of the grass. All of the little things, so it was really exciting,” Neal said. “From then on soccer just stuck with me.”

Teamwork became the power play that drove her to continue playing for the El Camino High School soccer team.

“I just really had a passion for being on a team and everyone having my back,” Neal said. “I’ve always had that feeling for my whole life when it comes to soccer. I think that’s why I haven’t left the sport, because the feeling of teamwork.”

When Head Coach Adolfo Perez originally scouted Neal, he knew she was meant to go on to bigger and better things.

“The first thing that stood out was her throwing skills. She possessed a quality of throwing the ball far, which is a rare commodity in soccer,” Perez said.

From high school to college, Neal took off with a running start down the field to the goal of opportunities.

Neal easily adapted to skills of her teammates and was awarded Most Valuable Player two consecutive years.

“Her freshman year she was dubbed the Most Valuable Player, so she made a tremendous impact,” Perez said. “When I recruited her, I told her if she worked hard there will be good things that will happen to you so I am very pleased with her scholarship.”

Although success came Neal’s way, she did not have an easy start. During her freshman year of college soccer, Neal injured her ankle and was looking at a season filled with recovering instead of playing.

However, that was not going to stop her from exceeding the goals of her teammates and coach. Neal’s hard work and ability to prevail against challenges helped her exceed the expectations of her coach.

“Her freshman year, she played hurt, which was remarkable. She had to go to the trainers before every practice and before every game,” Perez said. “To have the durability was incredible, and speaks volumes to anyone.”

Gisell Cruz, the team captain, said that Neal’s accomplishments have also left many of her teammates inspired and optimistic for what is to come.

“We are so excited for Kerian to go to Wisconsin, Green Bay. When we found out she had gotten the scholarship, we were excited for her sisters,” Cruz said. “We love Kerian and watching her play and knowing what she has done inspires us. It inspires me.”

Cruz said that playing alongside Neal has been a journey and there will be no obstacle at her new college she won’t be able to work around.

“If Kerian got upset or had a challenge, we were there for her, and she would work it out. I think she is going to do so good at her new school and for her new team,” Cruz said. going to the stadium games, and the whole experience is what thrills me,” Neal said.