For a lot of college athletes, choosing a school is a tough decision. Many times, it involves a certain level of compromise between the most appealing school and the program that best fits their skills.
Luckily for Lauren Hoppensteadt, no such compromise was necessary for her to end up part of the EIU women’s soccer team.
“I actually visited Eastern before I was even interested in playing soccer here,” remembers Hoppensteadt, a redshirt junior playing midfield and defense for interim head coach Jason Cherry’s Panther squad. “I loved it before any of that. So it’s kind of a plus that I wanted to go to Eastern in the first place, and then I was going to be able to play soccer here, too. Then I was sold.”
Hoppensteadt, a communications sciences and disorders major with hopes of getting into grad school next year while completing her final year of NCAA eligibility, had scholarship offers from smaller schools as she neared graduation from Oswego East High School in suburban Chicago. She passed up those opportunities to come to Eastern as a preferred walk-on. It worked out: She earned some solid playing time as a freshman and started getting some scholarship money the following season.
“Being the athlete I am, I really wanted to go (Division I) and see if I could compete at this level of play,” explained Hoppensteadt. “I knew that from the beginning. It was always one of my goals.”
Scholarship money or no scholarship money, the life of a collegiate soccer player is no cakewalk, especially now when the season is in full swing.
“Today I had to wake up at 5:30 a.m. because we had early morning weight lifting,” said Hoppensteadt, rattling off her daily schedule. “After that, I showered and went to class from 8-11. More class from 1-3:15 p.m. and practice at 3:45 until around 6. Then it’s treatments or icing, then dinner around 6:30 or 7. Then homework. Then that’s it. That’s my day!”
And then there are the road trips and the missed classes that come along with them. Hoppensteadt says that can be challenging at times, but the aspiring speech pathologist’s appearance on the spring Dean’s List indicates she’s doing just fine with the balancing act.
“I have good classmates who give me the notes, and my teachers are always really understanding and they always meet with me if I need to catch up,” said Hoppensteadt, whose much more challenging time came when she missed most of last season due to an excruciating hip injury.
“Before I reported for preseason, I got a steroid injection,” said Hoppensteadt. “That proved not to help very much at all. I tried to rehab back into games, and at Butler I was able to play for 20 minutes. The next day I was in so much pain, we all decided I needed to redshirt.”
Hoppensteadt was even scheduled to undergo labrum surgery, but had an eleventh-hour change of heart. Instead, she opted to rest the hip and essentially spend four months away from athletic activity of any sort.
“The time sitting out not being able to do anything at all was very frustrating,” remembers Hoppensteadt. “But I knew I would get healthy eventually. The end goal is always to come back and play again. I never thought I wouldn’t be playing again. It wasn’t an option.”
That’s because the overarching theme to Hoppensteadt’s life has always been to play more soccer. From the time she picked up the game out of admiration for her older brothers to a jam-packed — and more or less year-round — schedule of school and club play throughout high school, a love for the game has always been the driving force.
“I couldn’t imagine not doing it,” said Hoppensteadt. “I don’t know what I’d do with all my free time. I’d probably end up playing intramurals even if I wasn’t playing college soccer. It’s just like a way to hang out with all my best friends doing something we love.”
The camaraderie of being part of a team plays a major role in that sentiment.
“The people I’ve played with have always been my best friends,” explained Hoppensteadt. “Everyone gets along really well. I live with four of my teammates. These are my best friends here at school and I don’t know what I’d do without them.
“A lot of my favorite memories are just in practices with my team; just joking around and having fun. Our team is very much a family environment. We laugh together, we cry together, we fight all the time … but we get over it, move on, and try to get better every day.”
As of the publish date of this story, Lauren and her Panther teammates are riding a four-game winning streak in Ohio Valley Conference play. Make sure you check out their remaining schedule for your chance to catch them in action at Lakeside Field.