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Rockwood soccer star picks the right place

Koby Commandant looks to keep improving, getting drafted, as she stars for the NCAA's Syracuse Orange

One of the reasons Koby Commandant decided to go to University of Syracuse to pursue her soccer dreams was for the chance for the midfielder to play right away for the Orange. And it helped that it wasn’t that far from her Rockwood home.

“When I was looking for a school I definitely wanted something that was close to home,” she said. “I took into consideration my family so both my two older brothers, they went to school in Rochester which is only about an hour and a half away. If I needed family, I could quickly drive an hour and a half to see them and my parents could come see me as much as they wanted.

“For the soccer aspect Nicky ('Thrasher' Adams), our head coach, was saying how we were rebuilding. It's a big ACC school, the best conference for soccer, so that was definitely a part of it. The fact that we were rebuilding gave me some hope that I might see the field.”

She’s now played in 31 games for the Orange in her two seasons of NCAA soccer and she’s started all 31, something that’s pretty rare. That included starting all 17 games she played last year in her freshman season.

“It was very unusual which made me very happy I chose Syracuse,” she said.

Syracuse didn’t have the best of seasons in 2021 as the Orange was winless (0-10) in league play and 4-12-1 overall.

“For me personally, I was very proud of how I played,” Commandant said. “Obviously, I needed to get used to the speed of play which is definitely faster, but I think I've definitely improved as a player and as a person so much on and off the field. I think it built character. We didn't necessarily have a great season last year, but it definitely helped overcome some things and I think as a team, too, we all overcame a lot and this year we're a whole lot better.”

This year Syracuse is 1-3-1 in conference play and 8-5-1 overall. And Commandant scored her first goal with the team on the weekend, a goal in the 89th minute that gave the Orange a 2-2 tie with the second-ranked Virginia Cavaliers.

“I think the No. 1 thing is we don't have nearly as many injuries. Last year our three forwards got hurt. They all tore their ACLs,” she said. “Also, we were a really young team so just having one more year of experience for a lot of us definitely helps and then I think this year we're so much more confident. Our coaches are so much more believing in us and we believe in ourselves and I think that's definitely helped.”

Commandant, who’ll turn 19 near the end of the month, was born in Burlington although her family was living in Rockwood at the time and Rockwood is where she got her start in the sport.

“I started playing soccer around 2 1/2, 3ish, summer league in Rockwood. My whole childhood was Rockwood and then Grade 8 is when I switched,” she said. “At the start of Grade 8, I started in Burlington. I played all through high school there.”

And the reason for switching from playing in Rockwood to playing in Burlington?

“I needed a challenge,” she said. “I thought I needed something that would push me into a further level and my end goal was to go to school in America so I thought Burlington would definitely be the place that would help me get there. It's much bigger than Rockwood and has so many more connections.”

During her high school days at John F. Ross CVI, Commandant was a four-sport athlete.

“I played soccer and basketball. I played field hockey for a little bit and I was on the school dodgeball team, which was just like a one-tournament type of thing,” she said.

In the end she had to make a choice between soccer and basketball. Field hockey and dodgeball were just things to do.

“Basketball was definitely a big one for me,” Commandant said. “Coach Eric (Stewart), my soccer coach growing up, he was also my basketball coach and he always wanted me to be a dual-sport athlete. He wanted me to go to America for basketball and soccer.

"That was definitely a big thought. Which one did I want to do more, soccer or basketball? I got into basketball a bit later. It was around Grade 5 and I loved it, but it was definitely, for me at least, to keep me in shape out of (soccer) season.”

And it really didn’t take Commandant long to decide soccer was her sport.

“For me, ever since I was little I always looked up to Christine Sinclair and anyone like that that just brings little girls up and is inspiring so for me I was like 'I really want to do that;'” she said. “I think another thing is I need something at my feet. Basketball I had something in my hands and that was fine, but anywhere I go I want a ball at my feet. I think trying to go away from that, I wouldn't really want to do anything but play soccer. I think just knowing that I'm never really going to get sick of it is why I keep doing it.”

But playing NCAA soccer is a lot different than playing high school soccer in the local District 10 league or playing club soccer in the spring and summer.

“It was definitely a big change,” she said. “My club coach, Casey Downey, he definitely knows how to prepare girls who are going to college for soccer, but even then a coach can only prepare you so much before you play the No. 1 team in the nation which we did. It's definitely a big difference, but the more you play the better you get, the more comfortable you get and the more confident you get.”

Now Commandant has another goal.

“The goal is to get drafted and go pro,” she said. “I want to do that, depending on how the next three years go and depending on how I develop as a player.”

To get selected in a National Women’s Soccer League draft, Commandant knows it will require her to continue to put in as much work as she can and as much effort as she can.

“I always try to make sure I'm doing that to reach my goal.”