Bridgette Alexander is eyeing a big finish to her college soccer career.
A former Lower Moreland standout, Alexander is making the last preparations for her final preseason as a member of the Hartford women’s soccer team and she had big things in mind. The last two years ended with America East regular season titles but not the NCAA tournament berth the Hawks have coveted.
Hartford’s left quite a mark on the Huntingdon Valley product and she’s ready to make sure her last semester there is one to remember.
“Honestly, I’m just really excited,” Alexander said in an interview Tuesday, with preseasons set to start Aug. 5. “We have a really good group this year, we have a couple regular season championships under our belts, I think our senior class is one of the best to ever come through and I’m just thrilled to be a part of it.”
Hartford will play host to the last stage of Alexander’s competitive soccer career so it’s fitting she spent her summer playing for the organization where it all started. While some players from the area played for WPSL teams or in other leagues over the summer, Alexander went back to her roots.
Her athletic career started in the Huntingdon Valley Athletic Association (HVAA) and she’s found it very hard to leave ever since. As she’s done the past few summers, Alexander played for the HVAA Pride U23 women’s team, sharing the pitch with many of the same girls she grew up with as teammates.
“Brad Sorkin is our coach and Boomer Steigelman is another of our trainers and they both really deserve a lot of the credit for keeping us together,” Alexander said. “Most of us play college ball at all different levels but some of us don’t, they played on our travel team growing up and they’re still in it. We play in a women’s league and I think we’ve gone undefeated the last two years.”
A determined work ethic has been a trademark of Alexander back to her earliest days playing soccer and basketball but even she noticed a different emphasis in her offseason training this year. During Hartford’s spring season, the forward took a hard fall in one of the Hawks’ exhibition games the led to a shoulder injury sidelining her for about a month.
Losing that time only served to fuel Alexander more this summer and outside of playing with HVAA, she’s put in a lot of time at the gym, the track or the soccer pitch. Just from talking with her teammates the past couple months, it’s a mutual feeling.
“All the other teams know we’re capable of winning that championship and it’s always a battle at the end, it seems like there’s a couple teams that finish on the same level,” Alexander said. “If we work as hard as we’ve been working, it comes down to that final game we have to push. I think our seniors realize ‘this is it’ and we just have to stay confident and composed.”
Even missing half her senior season at Lower Moreland with a knee injury, Alexander still blew away the previous goal-scoring records. Freshman year at Hartford was an adjustment as she tried to regain form off the injury and get used to the college level but Alexander still found a spot in the lineup pretty quickly.
Heading into her final training camp, Alexander has started in 41 of her 51 career games and has 15 career goals to her register.
“With the motivation my team’s given me to push this summer, I’d credit them all because I know they’re pushing just as hard,” Alexander said. “For the seniors especially, we’re all working our hardest to get that next level, to win the conference championship and reach the NCAA tournament. That’s our goal and I think the way we’re pushing right now, it’s within our reach.”
While her path led four hours away from home to Connecticut, it’s a circular route that always leads back home. She joked that even though her college career will end this fall, she’ll probably be playing for HVAA again next summer because Sorkin will start texting them in January to get the team back together.
Alexander feels like she’s grown leaps and bounds even in just three seasons at Hartford but even coming back to Huntingdon Valley for the summer, she’s still taking lessons from the people she’s played alongside the most.
“I learn just as much from them, then I get to carry that back and share it with my team,” Alexander said. “It’s great transition, I love playing with the girls in the summer and I love playing with my team so it all meshes together really well.”
The fall won’t just be Alexander’s last college soccer season, it will be the start of her final college semester. A psychology major, she’s planning to graduate in December and looking at options for grad school.
In a way, the game she’s devoted so much time to opened a door on that side too. Last spring, on top of training with her team, Alexander served an internship that mixed her biggest passion with her major.
“I was involved with an organization called Soccer Shots, I worked with the Director, Shannon Perry, and he was a huge mentor for me,” Alexander said. “I know I’m going to carry that with me forever. I was working with younger kids, like four, five and six, got to train smaller sessions and got to learn how to implement the curriculum. I learned so much there, I loved it there and learned so much about myself and my future career.”
She also can’t deny the strong urge to get into coaching soccer. A running joke is the fact Alexander was named “Most Likely to Coach an LM Sport” in her senior yearbook and her older sister Lindsay was an assistant coach at Chestnut Hill College for a few seasons after her basketball career came to a close.
“It’s a huge part of my life and I want to keep it that way,” Alexander said. “It will be a huge adjustment not playing as a college athlete but I want to give back to HVAA and my community for giving what they had for me. Seeing Obie (former LM coach John Oberholzter) and how successful he was and (Penn State women’s coach and LM graduate) Erica (Walsh) Dambach and all those people who came out of Lower Moreland, having them as my inspiration I think it’s in my career path.”
Outside of goals and assists, soccer is a game that’s tough to quantify in statistics. There’s no number to measure how effectively a target forward like Alexander holds the ball, turns on defenders or lays off the ball to a teammate on the move.
In the past few years, she’s learned to not worry about the stats but just being able to impact the game in ways that may go unnoticed. Alexander said her biggest growth has been in her maturity toward the game and being four hours from home helped her find ways to work through a bad practice or tough day more independently.
While she’s not an official captain for this coming season, it’s a role the whole senior class feels it can share.
“There isn’t a thing I wouldn’t do for any girl on our team, that’s kind of our philosophy and our motto and it’s what I like to carry,” Alexander said. “As a senior, you want to be a role model for the younger players. We have two great captains this year and I’m thrilled for them but our entire team, we’ve had this conversation with our coach, it was extremely hard to pick out captains because all of us have characteristics that are perfect for that spot.”
Alexander said she’s looking forward to Hartford’s America East game against Stony Brook this year given how competitive the two teams have been the past few seasons. She’s also got an early season nonconference game against Delaware State circled.
Abington graduate Toni Washington, who is heading into her senior season as well, has been Alexander’s HVAA teammate for years and it’s the last time they’ll get the chance to compete against each other.
She’s also given a little thought to Senior Day, although the forward quickly noted it’s a long way off and she’s not worried about it yet. It’s more good-natured ribbing from her siblings and as the youngest of them if she’s granted them invitations to the pregame ceremony.
“I have a huge family and they’ve all been asking ‘are you sure you actually want us to walk out with you?’ and I told them they all need to come,” Alexander said. “That’s going to be a huge day for everyone on our team and how successful we’ve been.”
On the topic of family legacies, this the last season Alexander will get to put on a No. 23 jersey. It’s been her number her whole life and the inspiration came from the best basketball player she knows.
“My sister is my biggest mentor in my life and I always looked up to her in sports, so that was her number for basketball in high school and college and I took it at a very, very young age for HVAA,” Alexander said. “I grew up with it and I was lucky enough to get that number in college. Wearing it reminds me what I’m playing for every day in my family, my friends at home and myself even. It means a lot to have it and I’m going miss wearing that jersey.”
Hartford’s season opens with a home game against Manhattan on Thursday, August 22. Preseason, especially the first few days full of conditioning and fitness testing, are a grind but it’s all part of the deal and it’s something Alexander hasn’t taken for granted the last three years and certainly won’t this fall.
“There’s nothing like the collegiate level, it was my dream to play at this level and play on a successful team and I did it,” Alexander said. “I’m just so blessed.”