Wooster Is... Celebrating Another Academic All-American
Paige Piper knows how to score goals – 33 to be exact – the third-most in the history of The College of Wooster's women's soccer program, but it is another statistic, her 3.88 grade-point average as a biochemistry and molecular biology major, that has helped put her in an even rarer category, as she was recently recognized as an Academic All-American® for the third time.
Since the Academic All-America® program began in 1952, The College of Wooster has had several student-athletes garner the prestigious honor, and of that group, just eight earned it twice, and only Blake Moore '80, who went on to play six years in the NFL, followed by Harvard Law School, and is currently a member of the College's Board of Trustees, had ever been named a three-time Academic All-American®. That changed in late November, though, when Piper became the second Wooster student-athlete, and first-ever woman, to earn this impressive distinction.
"It's really special to be recognized, because I've worked so hard," said Piper. "It's surreal, really. I know so many brilliant students here at Wooster, and there are so many awesome athletes…to be honest, I never expected any of this."
ROAD TO WOOSTER
Growing up in Midland, Mich., Piper became passionate about two things – soccer and science. Piper started playing soccer at the "bumblebee" level, at about three years old, and later moved onto more-competitive club teams as a young girl, while at the same time, she began to take an interest in the sciences, thanks to both her grandfather, who was a pathologist and toxicologist, and because her hometown boasts the headquarters of Dow Chemical Company, one of the largest chemical manufactures in the world.
Her two main interests came to a head when she got to H. H. Dow High School, where she began to excel in her math and science classes, and also earned a spot on the girls' varsity soccer team as a freshman. Piper began to garner quite a bit of attention early in her high school soccer career, as she was selected to the Olympic Development Program (state pool) as a freshman and sophomore, which is used to identify players across the nation who could potentially contribute to the U.S. National Team down the road. However, Piper's momentum was derailed during her junior year, when she suffered her first major injury.
"I had pulled a quadriceps muscle in high school and I really didn't take the time to rehab it and make it better," recalled Piper. "So I played injured during my junior and senior year, and that really hurt my level of play. I went from thinking I was going to play soccer at a Div. I school, to not being sure if I was ever going to be able to play soccer at a high level again."
That was when Piper got a phone call from Wooster assistant coach Darren Moore, who invited her to come down to Wooster to give it a look.
"I did some research and saw that Wooster had strong science programs and research opportunities, and that I would be encouraged to study abroad, so I came down and spent a weekend with the soccer team. Everyone just seemed so down to earth, and I could tell my personality would fit in really well here (Wooster). Plus, I wanted a fresh start with my soccer career, and Wooster was a new and exciting environment for me to try and do that in."
As a first-year at Wooster, Piper made an immediate impact with the women's soccer team, as she earned a starting role midway through the season and was the team's second-leading scorer (5 goals, 2 assists). Not to mention, she was earning straight A's in the classroom, yet still, Piper remembers her freshman year as being a challenging transition period.
"I was a good student in high school, but I didn't learn how to study, I mean really study, until I got to Wooster," admitted Piper. "My roommate Melissa Morgan, who plays on the volleyball team, she taught me so much. Watching how she studied and how she was always on top of her game is what helped me push myself to become better at everything I did."
Piper also chose to raise her commitment level to the soccer team, as she met with long-time head coach David "Geordie" Brown after her rookie season and asked him to create a workout and nutrition regimen to help her get into better shape. What followed was not only her best statistical season while donning the black and old gold, but also the Fighting Scots' first North Coast Athletic Conference Championship since 1996.
FLIPPING THE SWITCH
Along with an increase in fitness and cardio, Piper also added another weapon to her already impressive arsenal – the ability to, as she calls it, "flip the switch." According to Piper, one of the hardest parts about being a student-athlete, especially at a school with rigorous academic programs like Wooster, is being able to transition from spending a long day in classrooms, libraries, and labs, to playing in a high-intensity soccer game. Coach Brown talked to Piper and her teammates about clearing their mind when they stepped out onto the field, and once Piper was able to learn how to do that, the game became that much more fun for her.
Piper scored 12 goals and assisted on two others her sophomore year (26 points), which led the team and ranked second in the NCAC. One of those goals came in a 2-0 victory over archrival Wittenberg University in the regular season finale, which sealed the Scots' first NCAC championship in 14 years. Along with being named all-conference (first-team) and all-region (third-team), Piper also was one of just two sophomores in all of NCAA Div. II, Div. III, and NAIA that year to earn an Academic All-American® selection (third-team).
"That first time…I was incredibly surprised," admitted Piper. "I remember being a freshman and looking up to Chantal Koechli ('10) and thinking she was an untouchable figure because she was a two-time Academic All-American® here at Wooster. But what I've always tried to do is look at some of the most successful people around me and try and model what they do. Chantal was one of those people."
Piper's statistics were nearly identical as a junior, as she scored 11 times and passed out three assists (25 points) on her way to claiming all-conference (first-team), all-region (second-team), and Academic All-America® (first-team) certificates for the second straight year.
After another season of piling up gaudy statistics, Piper was just 15 goals away from becoming Wooster's all-time goal-scoring leader heading into her senior season – an accomplishment that would have been difficult to achieve, but was not entirely out of the realm of possibility for someone with her track record. Unfortunately, much like late in her high school career, Piper sustained an injury that took her career in a slightly different direction.
SENIOR YEAR AND BEYOND
Just a couple games into her senior season, Piper injured her knee in a game played on turf. She was diagnosed with swelling in the knee and Iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS), which severely limited her ability to move around the field the way she was accustomed to. Despite the nagging injury, which forced Piper to come off the bench in several games for the first time since she was a freshman, she still finished second on the team with 14 points (5 goals, 4 assists).
"This was definitely not the way I pictured my senior season ending up," said Piper. "But believe it or not, this year was one of the best experiences I have ever had being on a team. To watch my teammates who have worked so hard…and to be supporting them in a different role, rooting them on, was rewarding."
While Piper may not have had the season she envisioned, she did enough to finish third all-time in program history with 77 points (33 goals, 11 assists), and more importantly to her, was named an Academic All-American® (third-team) for the third time in her career.
"I'm understated. I think that's how people would describe me," said Piper. "I don't talk about these honors that much. I don't mention it to people. I know that I still have so much more to learn, and there are so many people that deserve the same attention I have gotten."
With her collegiate soccer career behind her, Piper has turned her full attention to her Independent Study (I.S.) – a year-long research project that allows seniors at Wooster the chance to delve deep into a subject of their choosing with one-on-one guidance from a faculty member. Piper's I.S. is still untitled, but will center on characterizing an enzyme, which will require countless hours of biological research in the lab to identify the properties of an enzyme and determine how well it carries out a reaction.
Piper, who studied abroad in Geneva, Switzerland, has already applied to medical schools in Michigan, and hopes to one day work in the women's health field, whether it is as an OBGYN or in orthopedics.
"The great thing about Wooster is how well academics and athletics work together. It's the type of environment where my coach recognizes that schoolwork comes first, and my professors understand the importance of me being on the team. In many ways, I feel that a lot of my education and maturity can be attributed to lessons learned through soccer…working with a team, listening, leadership…collaborating. The skills are transferable. But in the end, for me, school always comes first."