Gold Rush: Striving to be the Best
Oct. 10, 2012
This article was originally published in the October 2012 issue of Gold Rush.
By Jay Reddick, Gold Rush
The Wake Forest women's soccer program faced a turning point in the fall of 2010. The 2009 team had reached the NCAA quarterfinals for the first time, but the departure of a number of seniors left some large holes to fill. Without the next generation of talented, driven leaders on the field, the Deacons could easily have taken a step backward.
Realizing this, coach Tony da Luz recruited the most highly touted class in school history and gave many of them key roles from day 1.
They were told to sink or swim, and they didn't just swim. They surfed, winning the ACC title as freshmen and reaching the team's first College Cup last year as sophomores.
As the goalkeeper in that class, the last line of defense, Aubrey Bledsoe might have faced the most pressure, but instead of bowing to it, she internalized it and let it motivate her. She started more games than any first-year player in school history, registering three shutouts and a 1.25 goals-against average.
Bledsoe said her class' freshman success really just came down to opportunity.
"With so many seniors graduating, we knew we had to step in and make an immediate impact, so we really rose to the occasion."
She made the leap from solid to superhuman as a sophomore, piling up a school-record 14 shutouts in 2011 (the previous record was nine). Before she had even started classes in her junior year, Bledsoe got two more shutouts to set the Deacons' career record with 19.
The Cincinnati native claims there's no real secret to her success, but a thread runs through her life of competitiveness -- being pushed to do her best and overcome an obstacle, then rising to the challenge.
Start with this: Bledsoe has a twin sister. Where most siblings will follow one another into activities, Bledsoe and her sister, Amber, had many of those experiences at the same time.
Of course, that included sports. The Bledsoes' parents are marathon runners, so that athleticism and drive runs in the genes. And true to the family tradition, Aubrey and Amber tried just about every sport there was to try -- soccer, basketball, softball, track, you name it. The goal was to have fun, of course, but the subtext was, "I have to beat my sister."
After trying all sports out, both Bledsoes settled on soccer. Amber is the starting goalkeeper at Brown.
"It was really competitive," Aubrey Bledsoe said. "We definitely pushed each other. It's part of how successful we both are now, and I wouldn't have wanted it any other way."
The rivalry extended to academics, where Bledsoe is an ACC Honor Roll member and a former Academic All-ACC honoree. She's a Health and Exercise Science major with the eventual goal of going to medical school.
Ironically, as the daughter of runners, the one sport that never appealed to Bledsoe was running.
"I was on the cross-country team for two days before I had enough," Bledsoe said of high school. "I don't know how people do this for fun -- run 30 minutes, then run back. I'll run in soccer, training for a purpose, running to a ball, but just running to run never clicked for me."
Soccer and basketball proved to be Bledsoe's favorite sports, because they were fun and fast-paced. Even in goal, she feels that soccer pushes her to her limits of body and mind.
"It's not always fast-paced sitting in goal," Bledsoe admitted. "But I'm moving around, I'm always thinking, always speaking, setting the defense. It's all good."
As an upperclassman at St. Ursula Academy in Cincinnati, Bledsoe got plenty of attention from high-level soccer programs. She knew she wanted to move south, get away from home (but not too much), and push herself academically and athletically. Wake Forest proved to be a perfect fit.
"I hadn't been looking at Wake Forest, but I came to camp here with some of my high school friends and really liked it," Bledsoe said. "They showed a little bit of interest and I jumped at the chance, knowing I'd get to come here and to play in the ACC."
Lost now in all the talk of the pivotal 2010 class is that Bledsoe wasn't expected to play right away. She was slated to compete with senior Amanda Barasha for playing time in goal, but when Barasha was injured, Bledsoe seized the opportunity and recorded a shutout against UNC-Wilmington in her first college game.
The front-line players in the class got all the attention at first, led by Katie Stengel, who was counted on to be the team's leading goal-scorer and has delivered with a pair of All-American seasons so far.
Bledsoe said she worked often with Stengel during the spring and summer and -- there's that competitiveness again -- a friendly rivalry developed.
"We're really tough on each other, sometimes a little too tough," Bledsoe said. "We'll trash-talk a little bit, but it's all in good fun: 'Come on, Aubrey, what are you doing over there?' I don't come back with anything too bad, because she'll probably score on me. She's the best shots I'm going to get."
Bledsoe's thirst for accomplishment extends away from school. Her family traveled a lot when she was younger, so she has visited 44 of the 50 states, and she wants to get to all of them before too long.
"I'm just missing Hawaii, Alaska, Maine, a couple of others," Bledsoe said. "I know I've hit everything out west -- my parents drive everywhere. We drove to Washington state once."
Now, Bledsoe's parents drive from Ohio to see many of her games, a six-hour, one-way trip.
Her love of the West manifested itself last summer, when she hiked down the Grand Canyon and back up again. She also took her first skydive at the end of the school year. "It was a little nerve-wracking, but a great experience. I'd love to go again."
On the soccer field, all of Bledsoe's hard work is focused on one goal: Play your best and help your team win. She has done that, certainly, leading the Deacons to their first-ever No. 1 ranking last fall. She's proud of that accomplishment, but also notes that the date on that No. 1 ranking was the middle of October, not the beginning of December after the national champion is decided.
"We were ranked there for a week and played terrible (in a 2-0 loss) against Duke," Bledsoe said. "We got caught up in the hype, but we learned that once we get there, we have to work hard to stay there."
Even as she has risen to the upper echelon of her sport, taking the Deacons right along with her, Bledsoe's ultimate goal has been right there on her back for all to see. Her jersey number: 1.
"I used to not like No. 1," Bledsoe said. "It was just... 'Who do you think you are?' But it's grown on me."
It certainly has.
Aubrey Bledsoe Profile
Favorite food: Any kind of pasta. "I started cooking a lot this summer, now that I'm living in a house (with three roommates) and we have a kitchen."