Soccer seniors reminisce on final season

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Eric Henry

DePaul men’s basketball head coach Tony Stubblefield during his introductory press conference.

The final whistle was blown for the DePaul men’s and women’s soccer teams on April 2 and April 4, respectively — both against Creighton. The final whistle is also set to be blown soon and bring to a close the career of those players graduating at the end of the quarter. Seniors Brayden Callipari and Adrian Walker are two student-athletes who find themselves in that position. 

Covid-19 disrupted and eventually cancelled college athletics in 2020. While they returned in 2021, the new season brought plenty of changes. In the case of soccer, it led to the creation of geographical divisions with the Blue Demons being part of the Midwest division of the Big East conference.

“It was definitely tough but I think everyone made the proper accommodations,” Callipari said. “I think mostly everyone was just happy that we got to play so regardless of how difficult it was to get to training on certain days, at six in the morning or the hour-long bus drives, that’s not enjoyable for anyone, but we were all just happy at getting an opportunity to have a season. Strange, but definitely enjoyable still.”

Callipari became a mainstay for DePaul when he joined the team after playing his freshman year at Wisconsin. In his first season with the Blue Demons, he started 13 of the team’s 15 matches.

Despite this year’s changes, it still allowed Callipari to finish out his senior season and, in a way, go out on his own terms.

“In a sense, yes,” Callipari said. “It was definitely bizarre this last season but we still made it happen. We got to do what we wanted to do in the end. There was obviously obstacles to overcome but at least getting the opportunity to play during my actual senior season was a privilege. I think all the seniors are happy to be leaving in a better place than when he first arrived.”

Getting to play out the final season, even a shortened one, was important for the seniors — particularly for Walker.

The defender missed the entirety of the Blue Demons’ 2019 season after she suffered an ACL injury. She played eight matches this past season and was a key member of the DePaul defense.

“It was very, very important to me,” said Walker. “I remember Erin [Chastain] was talking to the three of us — me, Bina Saipi and Avery Hay — we were all fifth-year redshirts who had gotten hurt at some point in our career so we were sort of all in the same boat debating whether or not to come back.”

“Everything was so up in the air but I think I pretty much always knew I wanted to come back because my final season was cut short and knowing that I had worked so hard to be able to get back to a playing level and having that last year not happen, I wanted a season ending that I had at least a little bit of control over.”

Walker was able to do just that, albeit within the limitations of Covid-19 protocols. Still, her determination to return earned her DePaul’s Comeback Athlete of the Year Award.

“Being able to win it with Angela Scalzitti, who is a senior on the softball team, I remember both of us in and out the training room, we would see each other all the time,” Walker said. “We would laugh and roll our eyes like ‘here we go again, another one of those days.’ That definitely makes it special. Obviously, nobody ever wants to get injured and that’s not something that anybody strives for but to be recognized for the work that you put in off the field, to be able to return, that felt pretty cool.”

In addition to winning this year’s Comeback Athlete of the Year Award, Walker was named to the Big East All-Academic Team in 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19. She was also selected for the 2018 All-Big East Second team.

Both Callipari and Walker are leaving with fond memories of their time with the soccer program. Walker looks back at her freshman season, which she calls her best year in the program, and remembers being scared as a new player. However, she was quickly put at ease thanks to the welcoming seniors on the team. Thinking back from then to now, she sees it as things coming full circle.

As for Callipari, one of his fondest memories includes a game in which he didn’t play. It was the March 13 home game against Creighton, which DePaul won 2-1.

“Being able to watch the rest of the guys put in a performance like that was pretty spectacular,” Callipari said. “It allowed me to see all the progress that we’ve made as a program over the past three years that I’ve been here. Even though I wasn’t directly involved it was still pretty amazing just to see all the things we’ve been working on finally come together and get a huge win against Creighton at home.”

With their undergraduate careers coming to a close, both had an opportunity to play an extra season because of the NCAA’s extra year of eligibility due to Covid-19. However, both declined as they have other things coming up on the horizon.

Walker will continue her academic career at DePaul as a graduate student, majoring in nursing. She’s set to get back in the swing of things on June 13. Callipari, on the other hand, was a finance major and has a job lined up after graduation at Fifth Third Bank. 

To incoming freshmen, whether on the soccer team or not, Walker shared a few words of wisdom for them.

“Enjoy the journey of it all,” Walker said. “I think there are moments that things get very hard and you question whether or not you really want to be doing what you’re doing but at the end of the day, looking back on it, I’m proud of the work I put in, I’m proud of my teammates for the work they put in. When you’re in those hard moments, remember that there’s a bigger picture and this is just a small moment of your life where you get to do something extraordinary that not everyone gets to do.”