Sonoraville senior Averi Walraven has officially signed with the North Florida Ospreys, becoming the first Lady Phoenix girls’ soccer player to sign with an NCAA Division I school.
“I just fell in love with it from the first time I stepped on campus,” Averi Walraven said. “It just felt like home for me and I’ve never really felt like that anywhere else except for here.”
Averi Walraven played for the Sonoraville Lady Phoenix under now former head girls’ soccer coach Ken Walraven. As you might have guessed from the last names, there is a personal connection between the two.
“Watching her play through middle school and high school and watching her develop, it’s been educational being able to watch somebody that you know more about the sport than they do and then, just like that, they know more than you do with the amount of training she’s had,” Ken Walraven said. “As a coach, I’ve had to watch that. Then as the dad, we’ve logged some miles.”
Averi said she would miss the people and the support of Sonoraville High School, as well as the community at large.
“There’s just no hesitation in the support at all,” Averi Walraven said. “I’m definitely going to miss that the most.”
Ken Walraven said Averi toured several schools and got her to narrow down her choices, adding that in the game of soccer there are different styles coaches teach.
“You’ve really got to go to the coach that plays your style,” Ken said. “Possession is her style, so that eliminated some programs.”
Ken said the final selling point for the Ospreys was the hire of women’s soccer head coach Eric Faulconer. Prior to North Florida, Faulconer lead Armstrong State University for 12 years, compiling a record of 172-54-23.
“When he took over the program, that was the final piece of the puzzle,” Ken said. “Coach Faulconer’s got a tremendous following (and) reputation. He’s a player’s coach. As parents, that’s what we look for.”
Life is coming at Averi fast, as she will graduate from Sonoraville next month and enroll at the University of North Florida in the spring semester. Classes at the Jacksonville-based school start Jan. 6.
“I’m looking forward to meeting new classmates,” Averi Walraven said. “I’m excited to see what else the world has and ... be challenged a little bit and find my interests and kind of explore what they have there.”
Ken Walraven said he and his wife now live on Tybee Island, purchasing a house in March of this year.
“From a coach and a parent standpoint, it’s a dream come true,” Ken said. “But it’s just the next chapter. Can’t wait for her to get there and start competing. As a coach and a dad, to get there and start competing and see how you stack up, that’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Averi Walraven signed her papers in front of family and friends at Sonoraville High School.
“It’s just fulfilling to see all the hard work and the time and the effort paying off and all come to fruition,” Averi said. “You can’t even say how much work has gone into something like this. Since I was little, this has been my dream to play soccer in college, so just to see it finally happen is really cool.”