By: Preston Beale
From a very young age, Danielle Pratt was tossed—by her parents—into the arena of being active and staying active. Her parents were fixated on finding a sport that would suit her natural abilities. Noticing that Danielle was taller than most girls, her parents decided to place her in sports where she would take over and dominate, such as basketball and soccer. In basketball, Pratt’s height gave her the ability to reach over her opponents, snag rebounds, and drain three-pointers with ease. Likewise in soccer, her long legs gave her the capability to quickly accelerate by her contestants and finesse shots from a very long range. However, in her junior year of high school, Pratt wanted to focus mainly on one sport so she chose to stick with soccer. The constant conditioning that she received in basketball during her three years of playing gave her the mindset to endure the incredibly long lasting soccer games, which she had already become somewhat immune too. With her attention primarily on soccer, Pratt showcased her seriousness for the sport and became the All-Time leading scorer with 115 goals—most of which were scored during her junior and senior year—and recorded 65 career assists. In addition, she earned many honorary awards including, 1st team All-Conference for four years as well as Conference MVP and 1st team All-State—both of which she held for three years in a row. Her passion for soccer is shown in her stats and her seriousness for the sport was glorified by collegiate schools. Recruited by Division I schools such as Longwood and Elon, Pratt refrained from committing to either and chose to display her innate abilities at Christopher Newport University, a Division III school.
Before arriving to CNU, Pratt had suffered from spondylolysis —an over-use injury—and she would acquire much rehabilitation while taking on her rookie year. Spondylolysis is common adolescent athletes who constantly over-stretch their spines. The stress fracture usually affects the fifth lumbar vertebra in the lower back and weakness in the bone can cause instability therefore, causing the bone to not maintain its proper position. Fortunately, the stress fracture for Pratt only required rehabilitation not surgery. Trusting that rehab would soon rejuvenate her back, Pratt looked through all the negatives and focused on the upcoming season. She was determined to make a name for herself and not be seen as just another freshman on the team.
With that mindset installed, she was ready to battle and fight for the spotlight that she sought. Realizing that CNU was losing most of its offensive threats due to the senior class graduating, she knew she was destined for a starting position. In reference to her high school stats, she knew she had proven to the coaches that she could score and would do anything to keep that image of her in their head. Pratt went on to start every game except two as a freshman, which in return helped strengthen one of the top offenses in program history. In fact, near the end of her rookie season, her coaches didn’t see her as a freshman and head coach, Dan Weiler told her to “Stop making freshman mistakes”. From that point on she knew that she could not rely solely on her high school skills and that she would have to consistently improve upon the talents that got her recruited. As a matter of fact, after three-a-days—three practices in one day—that occurred throughout the regular season, Pratt would stay on the field, practicing her touches and her ball control. Her drive did not stop there, she would take time out of her weekends repeating different drills and exercises. Preparation was key for the few games she had left in the season.
Despite taking 47 shots, 32 of which were on frame, she had only recorded one goal for her rookie year. Although she had only scored one goal, the goal was a game-winning strike against Salisbury in their regular season finale. That goal helped her team clinch the regular season title as well as the top seed for them in the conference tournament. Unfortunately, after all the team’s hard work to reach the NCAA Tournament playoffs, their season ended with a loss of 1-0 to the Stevenson University Mustangs in overtime. Finishing 12-4-4 overall and 8-0-1 in the CAC (Capital Athletic Conference), the Captains were devastated but they knew they would have another shot next year.
Skipping ahead to this previous season, Pratt was moved to left-back on defense because her coaches thought it would better suit her and the team. Throughout her soccer career she had only played forward. The new position would bring many challenges to her but she knew in due time that she would become well acquainted with her new role on the field. Furtherly, Pratt understood that there were better strikers coming into the program and with that in mind she took the sacrifice for her team. With much reliance on her team to have her back and she having theirs, she was determined to be the best that she could be. In fact, when I asked Pratt “what are some of your keys to your success?” She did not hesitate to answer:
“I think the key in exceling in soccer is having teammates who support you. Soccer is 100% a team sport because if your teammates do not have your back then you are not going to succeed and neither is the team”
At the end of her sophomore season, Pratt won the honorary award of being the “most-improved player”. She truly cares for her team and knows that she would have not done it without them nor her coaches. Giving thanks to her coaches Pratt said: “You usually can’t take 30 girls and have them work well together. My team has great team chemistry and we all get along great, on the field and off the field”. Although she accepted the award with much gratitude, Pratt is still consciously aware that she must keep up her hard work in order for her to reach her full potential at left-back.
For those who are not familiar with Pratt, she is a very upbeat and outgoing person who always keeps a smile on her face even when dealing with adversity. For instance, Pratt illustrates:
After we beat the defending national champions (the Lynchburg Hornets), everyone stormed the filled and there was a huge dog piled and I was on the bottom. I got a slight tear in my MCL. Everyone thought I was crying because we had just won but in reality I was in so much pain, some can say it was a bittersweet moment.
Pratt shown here, is being helped by one of her teammates while they join to celebrate.
In all the happiness and glory no one could tell Pratt was truly hurt and the fact that she always has a smile on her face it was for her teammates to see that she was actually in agony. The tear didn’t keep her from playing in the games that followed. She shows tremendous courage and aspiration all the time even when there are several odds are against her.
As for the Captains, their season ended with a record of 14-5-1 overall and 8-1-0 in the conference. They were knocked off in the first round of the playoffs again, but with the new talent coming in next year they know that they are destined for a shot to be the Division III National Champions in the NCAA Tournament. With this intention, Pratt is making it her goal to get her team there and with the commitment and zeal that she possesses I fear for the opponents that try to stand in her way.