A year ago, Tigers' junior goalie Riley Riordan knew she was running out of time.
For the second time in her collegiate soccer career, she felt burnt out, and was ultimately ready to hang her cleats up for good.
“I didn’t even want to look at a soccer ball,” said Riordan. “I hated it.”
After being hurt the first part of her freshman season at Northern Illinois, Riordan had transferred to Purdue for a fresh start. But halfway through, Riordan realized the passion was still not there.
“The only thing that steered me away was that I didn’t have the balance that I wanted,” said Riordan. “I kind of wanted to explore more things in the university and have more opportunity to get involved academically or get a job. All those little things.”
It was this same desire that Tigers senior midfielder Caroline Zadina had two years earlier while playing at a Division I program in St. Louis.
But it wasn’t injuries that had blurred Zadina’s future in soccer. While finishing up her senior year of high school, Zadina learned the coach who had recruited her had been fired.
“That’s very scary for an athlete that commits, and you have your whole future kind of set around going to school with one coach,” said Zadina.
The sudden change, along with the rigorous schedule that constantly revolved around soccer, soon had Zadina longing to depart from the Division I lifestyle.
And like Riordan would later go on to do, Zadina found DePauw, and fell in love with the university. From internships to classes to Greek life to the campus itself, Zadina was immediately hooked.
And for soccer?
Zadina was ready to give it another go, but it was now for more than just the sport itself.
“The girls here, they love soccer, they put their heart and passion into soccer, but they also know that soccer’s not the only thing in life,” said Zadina. “The relationships mean more than the wins we have or the playing time you get.”
As a regular starter, Zadina shined during her sophomore and junior years, earning a NCAC All-Conference honorable mention selection in 2013.
But during her junior year, Zadina was given one more task: convincing Riordan to play DePauw soccer.
Like Zadina, Riordan had been impressed with what DePauw offered from the start, and was already set on attending.
“I could tell that I wasn’t just another face in the crowd,” said Riordan on her tour as a prospect student. “They weren’t just like, ‘Okay were are your transcripts?'’”
But soccer was another story.
Before the fall season, Riordan sat down with Zadina and head coach Megan McCormick to discuss the possibility of her playing again. McCormick had asked Riordan to give her 30 days. If Riordan wasn’t enjoying the game by that point, she could leave with no hard feelings.
After 30 days came and went, Riordan decided to stay.
Together, she and Zadina helped lead women’s soccer to one of their best seasons in recent years, as the team took home the NCAC conference championship. Riordan totaled 90 saves in goal along with four shutouts, while Zadina was given NCAC All-Conference honorable mention selection for a second time.
“Both of them have a really competitive edge to them,” said McCormick. “Part of that’s just in their nature as athletes and I think part of that is coming from Division I programs where it’s a much larger stage that you’re competing on in some ways.”
But it’s Zadina who Riordan can still never thank enough for helping guide her back to the sport she loves.
“I could tell [from the beginning] that she was just such a special person," said Riordan. "I hold a lot of respect for her. I tell her all the time, and I don’t think she believes me, that she was one of, if not the sole reason, for getting me here.”
While Riordan will be returning next season to help the Tigers defend their NCAC championship, Zadina will be moving on.
But while the end of her DePauw career may be in sight, Zadina realizes she’s grown more from playing soccer here than she would’ve as a Division I athlete.
“I have a completely different mentality going forward on how I want to treat others, what I want to commit my life to, and so it’s really shaped me as a person, and it really boosted my athletic career too,” said Zadina. “I’ve never been on a team that I love more than DePauw’s team.”