Favorite athlete: Megan Rapinoe
Favorite team: U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team
Favorite memory competing in sports: Making it to state quarterfinals in the 2016 season
Most embarrassing/funniest thing that has happened while competing in sports: I picked the ball up before it was all the way out of bounds
Music on mobile device:R&B and pop
Future plans: Attend Dickinson College to study neuroscience and play soccer
Words to live by: “Don’t be pushed around by the fears in your mind, be lead by the dreams in your heart.”
One goal before turning 30: Earn a medical degree in health or psychology
One thing people don’t know about me: I love to wakeboard in the summer at Lake Wallenpaupack
By Mary Jane Souder
Sarah Williams remembers it as if it were yesterday.
That October night two years ago when the Pennridge senior – then just a sophomore – came off the bench and found herself in the hero’s role after scoring the game-winner in the Rams’ electrifying 2-1 win over archrival Central Bucks South in a classic soccer battle for the top spot in the SOL Continental Conference.
“It was midway through the second half – we were tied 1-1,” Williams recalled. “I remember (coach) Audrey (Anderson) told me to warm up because she was going to put me in.
“When she put me in, I just remember being so nervous, being in such a fast-paced game and being a young forward off the bench. I remember being in the 18 and I remember receiving a throw-in, and it was bobbling around in the box. I just remember thinking - I have to get to this ball, I have to try to finish it, and I just toe-poked it in and then we won the game. It was the best feeling ever being a sub scoring the game-winning goal.”
On a squad loaded with veteran stars, Williams served notice that she would be heard from for years to come for the perennial SOL and district power.
“It was kind of her moment that she was able to grow from as a player where the girls looked at her – okay, here’s a player who’s young, and she scored the winning goal,” Anderson said. “This is Erin Stevenson’s time, this is big-time players that want to win games. I think the fact that the girls were rallying around her as a sophomore kind of made the transition a little bit easier for her.”
Williams has lived up to the promise she displayed as a sophomore, and as a senior, she’s anchoring a stingy Rams’ defense at center back.
“Every game, Sarah Williams – she steps up every single time,” teammate Lindsey DeHaven said after the Rams’ recent 1-0 win over Souderton. “She never has a bad game, that girl.”
That girl’s journey, however, has not been nearly as smooth as it might appear. Roll back the calendar to last year’s Central Bucks South game on Oct 4, 2017. There were no Williams’ heroics in that one. Instead, the senior standout was at a crossroads.
“It was the day we had a night game against CB South, and I said, ‘Mom, I’m not happy with my life right now. I don’t think I can keep going like this,’” Williams recalled. I wasn’t really sure what was going through my mind, but I knew I needed help.”
Williams played the entire game that night – a 1-0 Pennridge loss. It turned out to be her final appearance in the Rams’ lineup last season, and she thought it might well be the final of her career. Williams, it turns out, was waging a war with anorexia, a battle she has won and a story she shares in the hopes that it will help others who may be heading down that same path.
In hindsight, Williams admits that, at the time, she gave no thought to the fact that her eating habits might be causing serious harm.
“It became such an automatic habit,” she said. “Restricting myself from eating – I didn’t think anything was wrong with it, and it had been going on for so long, I did think it was normal.”
It wasn’t, and Williams was diagnosed with severe anorexia. She was sent to CHOP where she spent two-and-a-half weeks. She missed close to a month of school.
“When they told me I needed to be hospitalized for two weeks, I had a breakdown,” Williams said. “I thought it was going to be two nights at most.
“I didn’t know how severe it was. The only thing I thought was going on was that I was depressed. I didn’t think I had an eating disorder.”
The day she returned home from the hospital she went to her team’s final regular season game against Hatboro-Horsham and openly shared her struggles with her soccer family. They offered unconditional support.
“It was actually kind of relieving to tell them what was going on because I know a lot of them were confused when I suddenly left,” Williams said. “My team – they’re like my sisters. I can tell them anything. It was really nice having them to lean on.”
That, however, didn’t make it any easier for Williams to watch from the sidelines while the heavily favored Rams were sent home for the season in the opening round of the District One 4A Tournament after falling – in penalty kicks - to Quakertown.
“It was painful,” Williams said. “It was really, really hard watching my teammates play and knowing that I’m not able to go in and make a difference in the game.
“It was very, very hard. Struggling with an eating disorder has been one of the hardest things I could ever imagine I had to face.”
Not playing a sport she loved was equally difficult, and Williams did not receive the green light to return to action until last March.
“Just coming back to soccer – I realized I can’t take this sport for granted,” she said. “This is something I love. It’s not just something I do. It’s a passion of mine, and it’s a lifestyle.
“I never thought I would have recovered to be able to play my senior year. I’m grateful for every opportunity I get with soccer.”
And how did Williams save herself when all seemed to be lost?
“It was very, very hard mentally, but with the support of Audrey, my teammates, my friends and my family, I was able to push myself to want to recover and to want to get back to soccer,” she said.
So inspired was Anderson by Williams’ resolve to win her daunting personal battle, she gave the then junior the Coach’s Award at the team’s banquet.
“She went through a lot and the fact that she’s back this season is a testament to her courage and her ability to make it through difficult things,” Anderson said. “She came back this season even stronger with something to prove to herself – not anybody else, but to herself that she was strong enough to get through last year and be able to finish out her senior season on the soccer field.
“She’s a teenage girl going through this, and for her to be open with her teammates – I thought it was very brave of her. I look at her, and I’m like, ‘Wow, I don’t have the right to complain about anything.’ The work she put in to get to where she wants to be is just crazy.”
These days Williams is exactly where she wants to be. An honor roll student who has committed to continue her soccer career at Dickinson College.
“Playing in college was always my number one goal, and Dickinson has been my number one college since summer before junior year,” she said. “I had been in contact with the coach before I was hospitalized, and then when I couldn’t play soccer until March – it has been a struggle.
“After he saw me playing the spring season, he decided that he would like me on this team, and I committed the end of May. I really did not think I would be able to play in college. I didn’t think I would be able to be back to play my senior year in high school. Everything that has happened to me is such a blessing.”
Williams began playing soccer when she was four years old but didn’t really enjoy it, opting instead to play softball. When she was 11, she decided to give soccer another try.
“I told my mom – I want to try out for the travel soccer team,” Williams said. “I think it was because most of my friends in elementary school played soccer, and I was thinking – I want to try this again because softball wasn’t really my thing. I didn’t really take to it.
“When I made the team, I quit softball, and ever since, I started getting better and better. I started growing a passion and love for the game. It became a lifestyle.”
In seventh grade, Williams, who began her travel career with Deep Run, moved to the Harleysville Football Club and is still with that club.
“I love the way (soccer) makes me feel when I win a tackle or when I beat someone or when I score goals,” she said. “And I do love playing with my friends.
“There’s nothing better than playing on a team where there’s amazing chemistry, and the feeling of winning a big game – I can’t describe it.”
A forward for most of her playing days, Williams got a taste of defense guest playing in a tournament the summer before her junior year.
“The coach was like, ‘Hey, we need a center back. Do you think you could play for us?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, definitely,’ and ever since I played center back for that team, I can’t see myself anywhere else besides center back,” she said. “I love that feeling when I save someone from scoring or I make a really good tackle or I beat someone going forward.”
Williams has been a rock in the defensive backfield for a Ram squad that has allowed just three goals in six games.
“One of the first days of preseason, she said, ‘I want this team to look at me like they did at Courtney Supp,’” the Rams’ coach said of the former standout who is now playing at Lehigh University. “She played next to Courtney last year, so she’s taking on Courtney’s role as the vocal player in the back, making sure the defense is organized, making sure everyone is on the same page.
“She kind of carries the weight of the defense on her shoulders. She never wants to make a mistake – she’s a perfectionist. We all know in soccer mistakes happen all the time, but she’s very accepting of the mistake and is willing to work a little bit harder to make up for it, which as a coach I love. She’s a great kid.”
Anderson, according to Williams, has been a constant source of support.
“She’s been there with me this whole time,” the Rams’ defensive back said. “I don’t think I would be where I am without her.
“From the perspective of soccer, she has made me the player I am today, and I wouldn’t have been able to commit to college without her pushing me every step of the way.”
A member of the National Honor Society, Williams plans to major in neuroscience at Dickinson next year, combining her interest in psychology and biology.
She also hopes that sharing the story of her personal struggles will help others.
“I’m really open about it now,” Williams said. “I’m all for helping anyone that needs help if it means me telling my story.”
“It definitely is an image issue, I would say 100 percent. Just not being comfortable with who you are when in reality – you’re perfect the way you are.”
Williams’ story, according to Anderson, is a story that could change the way female athletes look at themselves.
“For her to tell her team last year was hard, but I told her – the way people look at her now and themselves is a testament to her that she had the strength to do this,” the Rams’ coach said.
And it’s because of Anderson, family, friends and teammates that Williams has come back to a sport she loves.
“I love soccer because of the competitive drive in me,” she said. “I love to be challenged and to work hard to be the best player I can be.
“Winning a game because of hard work and pushing yourself is one of the most rewarding things about playing soccer.
“I also want to prove to people it’s always possible to find yourself and the light at the end of the tunnel no matter what life throws at you.”