Top Drawer Soccer named its Top 100 Freshman and four former Utah Royals FC AZ players were named to the list.
Faith Leyba, a defender at Colorado, was named #6, Holland Carey, a midfielder at Northwestern was named #40, Larkin Thomason, a forward at Mercer was named #64, and Hope Leyba, a forward at Colorado was named #84.
All four players have been instrumental to the teams success this season as each team as of October 26 has a winning record. Hope and Faith at Colorado have started in each of Colorado's 17 matches this season, Larkin is tied for her team lead in goals scored with 11 at Mercer, and Holland was tied for the most starts by a freshman at Northwestern with nine.
Utah Royals FC AZ reached out to our former players to catch up, see how their freshman year was going, how playing for the Utah Royals FC AZ helped them prepare for college, and what advice they would give to players also seeking to play in the college ranks.
Utah Royals FC AZ: Talk about how your season is going and the freshman experience. What have you enjoyed, what have you learned, and what has been your favorite part?
Hope: I have learned so much from my freshman experience. On the field, I have learned how important communication and talking is. It helps you by talking it through when you have the ball, but it also helps set your teammate up for success as well. I also learned how important it is to maintain a great fitness level so that your coach can leave you on the field during the games as long as they want to. While you are in the game, it’s important to work as hard as you can. It’s hard for your coaches to be upset with you if they know you give it all you have every time you step onto the field. My favorite part of freshman year has been Thursday night games under the lights at home. Nothing beats the feeling of game day here in Colorado.
Larkin: My season is going good. I have had a lot of success scoring goals and playing with my teammates. I have enjoyed being in a new environment and learning how to push myself everyday and always strive for more out of myself. I have learned that being able to adapt to different conditions and being flexible and open minded to new ideas is very important to your success and the success of your team. My favorite part so far has been scoring goals and achieving many of my goals that I set before coming to college.
Faith: My freshman season has been the best experience of my life. I have learned the importance of professionalism, and taking care of your body on and off the field. My coach always says you have to fall back on your habits, and it’s true. I’ve learned a lot about soccer and my position. Playing with older girls with more experience helps develop me as a player. My favorite part of my freshman experience is starting and having an impactful position in the back line.
Holland: My freshman season at Northwestern has been an amazing experience so far. I have loved getting to represent the school and compete in the Big Ten. I’ve learned a lot while playing college soccer, specifically about teamwork, self-discipline, and resilience. It’s been an adjustment getting used to some aspects like the speed and intensity of the play as well as the time-management that comes with being a student-athlete. With that said, the highlight of this season has been bonding with the team during preseason and the energy on Thursday night home games.
Utah Royals FC AZ: How did playing for the Utah Royals FC AZ and competing in the ECNL help you prepare for the college game?
Hope: Royals was the perfect experience that I owe a lot for my success in college. I loved going to practice every day and working as hard as I could. There was a high standard that we had to meet and hard work was expected. The ECNL was a great league to prepare for as well. Every game we would play against other girls also committed to D1 colleges and the games were always close and intense just like it is in college. The Royals has the best competition and coaches you could find which was why I enjoyed the experience so much.
Larkin: Playing for Royals and in ECNL has prepared me more than I knew it. During my time at Royals I was surrounded by the best players in the state who much like college soccer push you to be the best you can be. Utah Royals FC AZ is composed of the best players in the state and creates an environment of growth and success. The ECNL is compiled of the best teams in the country and competing in it allows you to always be playing against the best of the best.
Faith: Playing for the Royals was an unforgettable experience. Utah Royals FC AZ has the best coaches preparing us for the next level. The training environment is very similar to college, and winning and success is expected. Personally I enjoyed practice everyday and seeing my teammates and coaches. Playing in the ECNL prepared me to play in college. We would play against other D1 commits every game.
Holland: Playing for Royals prepared me well and provided me valuable experience before playing D1 soccer. All of the coaches are engaged, supportive, and genuinely wanted to help me become better. I was also surrounded by like-minded players who were dedicated, willing to work hard, and compete at the highest level. On top of that, playing in the ECNL gave me a solid physical, mental, and technical foundation. Specifically, I’d also say traveling to showcases and consistently playing against some of the top teams in the country definitely helped me be ready for college soccer
Utah Royals FC AZ: For girls also seeking to play college soccer, what advice would you give them?
Hope: The advice I would give is to outwork everyone around you. You need to always be the hardest worker on the field. Being great requires hard work that never ends. You also need to maintain your love for the sport because that is what drives you to keep going. It will be hard, but you need to embrace the hard work and enjoy the grind.
Larkin: To players looking into playing in college I would say to never be complacent. When you are always looking to improve and be better you will always be growing. Also remember that playing in college at whatever level is an achievement and you should be happy and proud with whatever school you choose. Lastly, it's important that you find a school that is a good fit for you and that you would be happy at the school you choose even if you weren’t playing soccer.
Faith: To other girls looking to play college soccer, I would say to keep playing and training hard. Do what others are not willing to do. Playing college soccer is a very achievable goal. Put the work in now to achieve your goals.
Holland: For girls looking to play college soccer, I would say to find a place that truly aligns with your own values. For me, I’m lucky to be a part of a program that values team culture and camaraderie, which is important to me. Soccer is only one part of being a student-athlete, so keep that in mind if you are looking to play in college! If you do set that goal, just focus on your own process and stay committed to it — everyone’s journey is different and you will end up where you are meant to be.