Quiet confidence: Molly Drooger puts her best foot forwardBy Meredith Sell Published: Nov 20, 2013
After a roller coaster season of injuries, recoveries and hard work, Taylor Women's Soccer season ended Saturday, November 9, the Trojans falling 1-0 to Spring Arbor and bringing four athletes' Taylor careers to a close.
Two days later, with most of the team still enjoying their break from practice, senior forward Molly Drooger hit the gym. Grabbing weights and laying claim to an exercise mat, the Taylor record setter—a Crossroads League Offensive Player of the Year, First-Team All-Crossroads League selection and NAIA All-American Honorable Mention, all in 2012—proved true Head Coach Scott Stan's words:
“She doesn't want to be mediocre at any point in her life.”
Stan has been coaching Drooger since her freshman year in 2010.
“When she tried out, I thought she was going to be the lead scorer in school history,” Stan said. “She just had a way of finishing and a calmness about it that most people don't have.”
Stan's predictions proved true: Drooger currently holds Taylor records for career goals (59) and game-winning goals (12). She is fifth in the NAIA for game-winning goals. On the team, she has a reputation for calm delivery.
“I know I can pass her the ball and she'll hold it and do something good with it,” said senior midfielder Anna Mercaldo.
Stan remembers finding Drooger through a recruiting service:
“She was looking for a smaller school, wasn't really sure about playing college, and I don't believe she thought she was truly good enough to be an impact player.”
“My senior year of high school I was very unsure of everything,” Drooger said. “I questioned a lot and struggled with my confidence and my ability to play well.”
By that point, Drooger had played with the Michigan Hawks, a soccer club that has produced players for the U.S. National Team.
“I watched her a little bit and thought she was highly talented,” Stan said. He told Joe Voldrich, his current assistant coach, then the men's assistant coach, the amount of athletic scholarship he was going to offer Drooger. “[Joe] watched her play for about twenty minutes and said, 'Is that all you're going to offer her?'”
Drooger's teammates describe her as confident and humble, a seeming contradiction for an athlete with her accomplishments. The confidence comes from her experience and success on the field; the humility is a signature trait.
“She hates all the hype about her,” said senior defender Christi Dithrich, “which I think is hysterical because she brought it on herself.”
Drooger's first year with Taylor, she was last on the team in overall fitness. This year, she was second.
“When I tell the girls to take one to 5,000 shots in the off-season, Molly's one that will do it,” Stan said. “She's seen what you can become in four years if you really work hard at it.”
Because of Drooger's determination to improve, when the manager of the Charlotte Eagles, a Christian elite team in North Carolina, contacted Stan seeking players for summer 2013, Stan mentioned Drooger as a possibility – for another year.
“He said, 'She probably would be good in another year, but we could probably use her now,'” Stan said.
Stan told Drooger about the opportunity and sent Horton her biography. This past summer, Drooger traded Trojan purple and gold for Charlotte Eagles blue.
With the Eagles, Drooger competed alongside NCAA Div. I and professional athletes, learned about and led sports ministry, and participated in team small groups and worship. For her long-term goals of working with kids and coaching, her summer in North Carolina showed her that God can use the seemingly disparate parts of her.
“I've always known what my passions were, but … this was the first time I felt like my passions came together,” Drooger said.
Returning to Taylor, Drooger readjusted to the level of game and challenged the integration of Christianity.
“She said at the start of the school year, 'If you want to do anything as far as devotions, prayer partners … I would be happy to lead that,'” Stan said. “Instead of just being a part of things, she decided, 'I can make this my own.'”
“A lot of times athletes struggle to play for the Lord,” Dithrich said. “Everyone says that, but no one really knows what it means. I think Molly found that groove this year.”
“She doesn't smack talk people,” Mercaldo said. “She's never once walked on the field or come to practice with the attitude of, 'Oh, I played for the Charlotte Eagles, I'm the best out here, and I'm going to treat you poorly.' She's always put us above herself.”
Drooger is the lead scorer, but it's not an accomplishment she looked to achieve. Several games into this season, the team had made 13 goals, 12 of which had been scored by her.
“She was up here for a captain's meeting, not very happy,” Stan said, “because she knew we couldn't win if it was just her.”
“She doesn't care about getting more goals to her name,” said senior defender Stephanie Kerstan. “She cares about putting it in the back of the net, so she'll willingly pass it to someone who has a better angle.”
Drooger, Mercaldo, Dithrich and Kerstan have played together all four years. Stan describes the senior class generously.
“For the first time in my six years here, our best players are also our hardest working players,” he said. “They've all found ways to contribute that make the team better because they're part of it.”
They've seen each other at their best and worst and know each other well, not only through soccer, but also through living with each other: their freshmen year, Drooger, Mercaldo and Kerstan roomed together, and in the years since, Dithrich has roomed with Drooger and Kerstan. All four agree that their relationships have deepened significantly each year.
Knowing each other since freshman year gives them a special understanding for each other – and a view of Drooger, who tends toward the quiet side of things, that not everyone sees.
“She's definitely come out of a shell and taken ownership of who she is,” Kerstan said.
“Quiet confidence,” Mercaldo said. “She's not super outspoken about it, but you know she's confident.”
“She's someone who yearns for depth in relationships,” Dithrich said, “and she's pretty cautious as to who she puts herself in front of, but once she decides to put herself out in front of you, she gives 100 percent.”
And this holds true both on and off the soccer field.
Like most seniors, Drooger isn't sure what her future holds. She may pursue professional soccer in Europe, return to the Charlotte Eagles for another summer, or live with her sister in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Wherever she goes, Drooger plans to stay actively involved in the soccer community.
“She's discovered this talent the Lord gave her … and she's going as far as she can with it,” Dithrich said.
“I love soccer so much,” Drooger said, “I want to get better.”
Mediocrity won't be accepted.