Few college athletes jump straight from their sport into playing professionally — the ones who make the jump are really good at what they do.
Such is the case for former North Carolina women’s soccer goalkeeper Claudia Dickey, who was selected by the OL Reign as the 20th pick in December's National Women's Soccer League Draft.
“Claudia is one of the greatest goalkeepers ever recruited," head coach Anson Dorrance said. "She’s a very good shot blocker, her feet are the best of any player.”
The Charlotte native played four standout seasons for the Tar Heels, making over 50 starts in goal and playing in 80 games. She finished with 147 saves, the second most in program history.
But despite Dickey's previous accomplishments, she isn't immune to the challenges of a budding professional career.
'Fighting for the job'
While she has enjoyed her first few weeks in the professional league, Dickey has struggled with finding her place on the team, noticing key differences between playing at the collegiate and professional levels.
Dickey felt a sense of community and family that she hasn’t yet established on her new team. The love and camaraderie that the UNC team had for each other made her time here special.
“I miss the girls at UNC the most," Dickey said. "I grew really close to juniors and seniors because we were all kind of all a family. I will eventually find that at OL Reign.”
In high school, Dickey attended the U-20 National Team camp with fellow Tar Heel Maycee Bell, who plays as a defender for the North Carolina team.
Their years-long friendship translated well on the field at UNC.
“My friendship with Claudia meant that I was already so comfortable with her, which made playing easier,” Bell said. “We kind of had to step out and be the older players on the team, so communication was key in order to command the back line."
Dickey said playing at the professional level is also different in terms of self-care, eating habits and the varying experience between her and her teammates.
Now playing in Seattle, soccer is Dickey's sole job, and she must earn her place on the team to make a living, she said.
“I am now fighting for the job and my spot on the team because if you don’t perform, you won’t play, and it’s about making money now too,” Dickey said.
'Starting over, but in a good way'
The realization that she must fight to play the sport she loves has impacted Dickey’s confidence, as she navigates having to play at a higher level.
“It’s been hard to adjust because I always have to be doing something productive with my life, whether that be through eating better, sleeping over and just taking care of myself so much more,” Dickey said.
Since joining OL Reign, Dickey has tried to regain her love for the game by showing up each day and taking in all that she can.
Even so, being in a new environment where she constantly has to prove herself has taken a toll on the young athlete who has had to come to terms with leaving her home state and moving across the country.
Dickey's former coach described her work ethic as amazing — highlighting how that element, coupled with confidence, will only make her stronger.
But before beginning her professional journey, Dorrance also offered some goals of his own for Dickey that he discussed with her prior to her departure from North Carolina.
“I would love for her to be an aggressive leader and a commanding presence in the back,” Dorrance said. “She is in a remarkable position to lead everyone on the field, because goalkeeper is the best position to see everything that happens.”
The OL Reign preseason begins on Saturday, when the team faces the Portland Thorns FC in Oregon. Dorrance challenges Dickey to strive for her potential because she has so much talent waiting to be recognized — talent that could be on display in the team's early matches.
“A player’s leadership voice is one of the most important aspects, as well as their supportive and confident voice,” he said. “These components are the final piece for Claudia.”
For Dickey, it is all about getting one foot in the door and making a name for herself as she continues to train with the team and find comfort in her new home.
“I feel like I am starting over, but in a good way,” Dickey said.
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