In a world of sports often dominated by big contracts, overblown personalities and a variety of scandals, it’s refreshing to remember the true spirit of competition. Abby Roevens, a native of Metairie and a senior goaltender for the Rhodes College football team, has played for the love of the game, and her history as an underdog is a testament to her tenacity and tenacity.
Roevens, 21, recently ended her college playing career with a trip to the Promised Land – the NCAA Women’s Football Championship tournament. But his four-year career at Rhodes has been a roller coaster of challenges, opportunities, injuries and triumphs.
After a remarkable academic and athletic career at Mount Carmel Academy, Roevens enrolled at Rhodes College, Memphis, a Division III school.
“In college, the season is much shorter, the competition is more intense and everything becomes much more important,” she explained. “As a player you are less likely to prove yourself, so every opportunity means more.”
Sport also requires more time, especially in its role of guardian. Roevens said most of his counterparts were tall and lanky. At 5’4 “, she’s neither.
“Size matters,” she said. “Most keepers are chosen by genetics.”
But Roevens has intangible assets that contribute to its success. Her trainer, Saul Martinez, describes her as an excellent communicator with a high football IQ and a fearless competitor.
“She had a great work ethic and was always ready to get dirty. She always came back. Never gave up,” he said. “As a coach that’s all you can ask for.”
Roevens said his position also requires mental toughness. “For a team sport, it’s very individualistic,” she explains. “Every mistake you make can be the difference between winning and losing your team.”
The physical demands also take a toll. “Being a goaltender is a painful position,” she said. “You sacrifice your body to keep the ball out of the goal.”
After gaining limited playing time in the first year, Roevens secured a starting position the following year. “I played all but 13 minutes that season,” she recalls. She was named honorable mention in the All Conference team.
Throughout the season, she also suffered a nagging elbow injury. A painful ligament tear (UCL) forced her to play with a splint and undergo a series of injections.
Then, during off-season training, she injured her elbow again. The second tear in his UCL would require surgery. Then, three months after his recovery, something else derailed his plans – a global pandemic.
“I was still pushing to come back and play when Rhodes canceled all fall sports and closed the campus to everyone,” she said.
Although disappointed, Roevens said the weather during Covid had some benefits. “I was able to… fully recover from my elbow injury.”
In January 2021, plans for a restructured spring season by Covid brought hope. But 10 days after team training began, Roevens dove for a ball and suffered a dislocated left shoulder; a torn labrum (damage to the soft cartilage that lines the hip joint cavity); and Hills-Sachs injury, which occurs when the humerus bone comes out of the cavity. Roevens would need surgery. Again.
“It was the most difficult recovery because I had just reached the top of the mountain overcoming my elbow injury and making it through the isolation of the Covid stops,” she said.
For the first time in his career, he will miss playing time. His senior season was in jeopardy. Some of his relatives recommended giving up football to focus on his rehabilitation and graduation, but Roevens was determined to play.
After five months of intense physiotherapy, Roevens returned to the pitch to begin his final season. Even as his body healed, his gambling and his confidence declined.
“Part of my training is touching the ground, diving. I hadn’t done this for so long, when the season started I felt like I had lost my advantage. Like nothing clicks, but I had to be sure that I would keep improving.
She did it. And his team too. In mid-September, the team celebrated a conference victory that Roevens called the “ultimate team win”.
The Rhodes team started a Cinderella run in the conference finals. After a close series of games and an upheaval for the number one seed, Rhodes won the Southern Athletic Association tournament championship for the first time in program history, winning an automatic bid for the Championship tournament. NCAA Division III women’s football.
Rhodes would fall in the NCAA’s first round against a bigger, faster, nationally-ranked team at the University of Chicago. Despite the early exit, Rovens called the playoff experience a dream. “To be the third team in program history to reach the NCAA tournament is so special, but getting there after all the struggles my teammates and I have faced over the past two years makes that accomplishment so much more important.”
Now that the football is over, Rovens looks to his future. After graduating in the spring, Rovens will use his computer science degree for his new job at General Motors in Austin, Texas.
“I am delighted to discover a new city and to start a new chapter in my life,” she said. “I will definitely miss my friends and teammates the most. They have become a part of my family.
Roevens said leaving Rhodes was bittersweet, but she’s proud of what she’s accomplished in her four years.
“Looking back, I am very proud of my perseverance and my fight,” she said. “I never let anyone or anything take away or diminish my love and passion for the game.”