By RICK PETERSON
It's always a challenge to make the jump from high school to college athletics, and making the leap from a Class 1A school to the NCAA Division II ranks can be an even more formidable task.
But it's one that former Cair Paravel Latin standout Hannah Woolery has seemingly handled with ease, becoming a key player for Emporia State's women's soccer team from the time she stepped on campus in 2019 and helping lead the Lady Hornets to a 14-1-1 record and No. 11 national ranking this fall.
"I think any transition is going to be difficult, especially the physicality of it and just the speed of play, but I had played for Bryan (Sailer, ESU coach) before so I kind of knew what I was getting into and just the team atmosphere, you catch on pretty quick,'' Woolery said.
A midfielder, Woolery started all 17 games for the Hornets as a true freshman, scoring four goals and dishing out six assists en route to earning All-MIAA honorable mention.
After having the 2020 fall season wiped out by COVID-19, Woolery and ESU turned in a strong abbreviated spring season and picked up right where they left off this fall, with Woolery contributing eight goals and six assists this season, including a goal and two assists in Sunday's 4-3 double-overtime win over Central Missouri.
"I think last year was definitely the most mentally difficult year we've had because we still prepared like we were going to have a season and then we came in and there was no season,'' Woolery said. "It just kept getting postponed so we were practicing, we were doing all the conditioning and the fitness tests, but we didn't have the reward of actually playing a game.
"That made it very difficult but thankfully in the spring we got kind of a shortened season and that was just a small glimpse of what it was going to turn into in the fall, so I was very grateful for that.''
Woolery, who also played basketball and volleyball for Cair Paravel as well as club soccer for Sporting Kaw Valley, said that the uncertainty of '20-'21 served as motivation for her and her teammates.
"It just kind of made us thirsty for more and the fact that we were going to have a full season we just wanted to keep growing and keep pushing and see how far we really could go, especially since we had everybody coming back,'' she said.
"I would say that we are growing as a team and there is still room for improvement but I think as a team we're really happy with where we are right now.''
Emporia State will take on Washburn at Yager Stadium Friday (6 p.m.) before closing out the regular season Sunday at Nebraska-Kearney and Woolery said the goal for the Hornets now is to close out the season with a bang.
"We have made it the furthest in ESU history and we're still capable of a lot but I don't want to overstep anything by saying how we're going to finish,'' Woolery said.
"I just think we need to keep working hard and keep pushing and just challenge ourselves to grow and finish the season strong.''