Finding Their Way: The Enduring Journey Home for Soccer’s Sophomores
Oftentimes in today’s society, too much pressure is put on the choice that every high school student simultaneously dreads and embraces making: the college decision. While four years is undoubtedly a long period of time to spend in a single place, much of a student’s success is determined by how one shapes a collegiate career, and not by where that path begins. Nonetheless, many budding undergraduates have a tough time identifying their perfect fit. And understandably so. With an extensive list of criteria to meet, every university surely falls short in some respects. It really comes down to finding the right balance. Unfortunately, at least initially, that balance is hard to see.
Stevin Bienfait was a star at Greater Atlanta Christian High School. A four-year starter, Bienfait led his team to four straight state finals, the most memorable being a state championship clinched when Stevin was only a freshman. After completing his high school tenure as a two-time all-state selection, Bienfait entered into “one of the most confusing periods of his life.” Inexperienced and pressed for time, the young soccer stud struggled to find a school that would best fit his needs as a student-athlete. Wofford, a small liberal arts college nestled in the hills of Spartanburg, South Carolina, drew Stevin’s attention. Attracted by the Terrier’s distinguished coaches and up and coming soccer program, Bienfait saw the potential. Wofford was his next step.
700 miles north of Atlanta, another student-athlete was hanging up his high school cleats. Zach Bialik, before competing for the Match Fit Chelsea Academy of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, was a first-team all-state selection as a junior at Wardlaw-Hartridge School. A two-year captain, Bialik was a natural leader. He took pride in playing for his teammates, hustling for his coaches, and representing his town. Looking to continue his journey showcasing his roots, Bialik enrolled in Rutgers University. Rutgers was sound academically, but more importantly for Zach, the university boasted an elite collegiate soccer program. A Jersey boy, Bialik felt at home.
Though they both played soccer, Bienfait and Bialik could not have been more different entering their first collegiate season. Stevin had done his kicking under the hot Atlanta sun, and now was primed to take the field for a small college. Zach had spent his childhood running around a Middlesex suburb, and at the moment, was preparing to do his state proud, fighting to uphold the Scarlet Knights’ esteemed athletic prestige. Yet as the semesters came and gone, the two student-athletes unknowingly grew together. Though they were both satisfied with their respective soccer experiences, Bienfait and Bialik sensed an academic void. Stevin began to realize that he “did not take a holistic enough approach in his college decision.” Zach lamented that he “had not pursued an Ivy League school more while in high school.” Sensing the need for an education that could, at the very least, stack up with the quality of their soccer expertise, the rising sophomores looked elsewhere. Despite following entirely distinct blueprints, Bienfait and Bialik were finally able to make the decision that had so painfully eluded them only a year earlier: they chose Cornell.
The transition, however, wasn’t easy. As Bialik eloquently put it, “Telling your coaches from any school that you want to transfer is never easy, regardless of your relationship with them.” More succinctly, a strong support system is crucial. With the encouragement of parents, coaches, and friends, Bienfait and Bialik figuratively, and literally, climbed the hill to reach Ithaca. Besides Stevin having to learn the meaning of “winter clothing,” it took some time for the transfers to adjust to Cornell’s rigorous academic schedule. It took no time at all, though, for the Big Red’s newest additions to feel comfortable with their unfamiliar squad.
For Bienfait and Bialik, it was smiles all around. Incredibly receptive, the Big Red made the sophomores feel welcome. In such a refreshing environment, Stevin and Zach quickly excelled. Appearing in all 17 games on Cornell’s schedule, Bienfait made an immediate impact. From scoring two against Buffalo in late September, to assisting on Conor Goepel’s golden-goal winner in the season finale, Stevin epitomized Big Red spirit. Bialik enjoyed similar success. Starting every match, Zach was the backbone of Cornell’s stellar resistance. Rarely leaving the pitch, the Jersey native consistently was the anchor for the defensive midfield, playing a major role in the Big Red’s record-tying defensive performance. Though they were a year behind the rest of the roster, Bienfait and Bialik played each match as if they had been practicing with the Big Red all their life.
So, is too much pressure put on high school students to make, what at least feels like, a life-changing decision? Perhaps. Are these teenagers capable of making the right choice? Without a doubt. Do not misunderstand the point here. It is not that high school students are “too young” to make an informed decision on the best place to continue their educational careers. Rather, the message here is that every graduating high-schooler needs support. And even when that foundation is there, time is unequivocally important. Some, in the case of Bienfait and Bialik, just need a little more time than others to grasp what is best for them. After all, as Stevin and Zach would surely attest to, oftentimes it can be rewarding to take the scenic route home.