For some college athletes, the transition to college sports can be a challenge. The jump from club and varsity sports in high school brings a whole new level of commitment and intensity. However, for Sam Lofton, a redshirt senior captain for JMU’s women’s soccer team, the transition into college never slowed her path toward a terrific collegiate career.
Lofton has been playing soccer since she was 5 years old — it’s in her blood. Her parents were soccer coaches and she also had two older siblings who played, which got her involved in the sport at such a young age.
“I’ve been playing soccer for almost 18 years; I grew to love the sport,” Lofton said.
Lofton made an immediate impact during her freshman year, as she started in nearly every game. That season she helped the Dukes win the Colonial Athletic Association championship and was named JMU’s Rookie of the Year.
“She is all business when it comes to soccer,” senior defender and co-captain Shannon Rano said. “I’ve learned so much from her.”
Rano has been Lofton’s teammate for the last four seasons. Rano said Lofton has taught her how to be more technical with her own game. And during that time, Lofton and Rano have benefited from their competitive natures by pushing one another to get better.
“She is the kind of player you want to train with,” senior forward Katie Hyland said. “Someone who is really good and that will push you to get better.”
Because Lofton plays both forward and defender, she has had the opportunity to challenge both Rano and Hyland in practice.
“She is the complete package,” head coach Dave Lombardo said. “She is so technical, she has the best footwork and she is so mentally strong, she never takes a day off.”
Lofton doesn’t leave her focused and determined attitude on the field. She is majoring in health sciences with a pre-med concentration and a minor in biology. Lofton is also in the honors program and is a four-time CAA Commissioner’s Academic Award winner. She was also named to the CAA All-Academic team for the second year in a row this season.
The athletic and academic accolades haven’t come without adversity, though. Two games into her junior year in 2012, Lofton suffered an injury that ended her season. The injury became the start of a long 16-month journey back to recovery. The experience was tough on Lofton, who yearned to get back on the field to help her team, but became frustrated with a slow rehab process.
“While I was rehabbing to come back there wasn’t a day that went by that I did not think about giving up,” Lofton said. “But my love for soccer and my team kept me motivated.”
Lofton received a medical redshirt and an extra year of eligibility. After a long recovery trip, Lofton returned to the field for her senior season and she has not taken her second chance to play the game she loves lightly.
“I learned a lot about myself while I recovered,” Lofton said. “I don’t take a single day for granted now. I know I owe it to my teammates to give it my all.”
Under Lofton’s leadership as captain for the past two seasons, the team has posted a 27-13-1 record. They finished second in the CAA tournament last year and second in the regular season standings this season.
But JMU lost to Hofstra University 4-3 in the CAA tournament semifinals on Friday night, marking the end of Lofton’s career as a Duke. Although her playing days as a Duke are now over, Lofton leaves a tremendous legacy.
“My JMU career started off great,” Lofton said. “It’s had a lot of ups and downs but I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished.”
Contact Forrest Deal at email@example.com.