Niles’ Freel picks Purple Raiders
Paige Freel must have looked up the word pain in the dictionary. She scoffed at the meaning and utterly dismissed its intent.
The 5-foot-6 Niles McKinley senior goalkeeper took bounces off her hands and the rest of her body – making a virtually impenetrable wall in front of the 24-foot wide by 8-foot high goal, which showed in her .74 goals allowed per game.
Mount Union University took notice of her talents and offered the Red Dragons’ keeper a spot on its team.
Freel said she chose the Purple Raiders over Thiel, but the decision the Niles goalkeeper made her freshman year was pivotal in her much heralded career.
Freel was a dancer, working hard to be the best at her craft. She knew what it meant to dazzle a crowd.
Then, there was soccer her freshman year. She needed to make a choice between the two, not because she wanted to, but because she was forced to do so.
Freel was diagnosed with scoliosis. He doctor said to choose between the two. Freel picked soccer and wanted to impress the fans in this arena.
She said surgery wasn’t an option because the diagnosis wasn’t that severe, but physical therapy didn’t help.
“It’s a pain factor,” Freel said. “It’s stuck in the middle where it’s not bad enough to do surgery, but it is going to give you pain. Either you don’t do the activity or you just go through the pain. It really causes me really bad pain on the one side of my back, which is the side it’s curved toward.
“Tried to do a Cortisone shot. It did numb it for a couple of months. Honestly, the pain of the shot wasn’t worth the little amount of fixing it did.”
She has a way to get through the pain.
“To me, it’s worth it. I’ll come home, lay on a couple of bags of ice, rest for the night and you get up and start all over again,” Freel said.
Niles coach Jen Mease said you would ever know Freel suffered any pain if you didn’t know about her condition.
“She was extremely tough,” Mease said. “As a coach, you had to try to see when she was in pain and give her breaks when you could. Even then, it was a battle every practice to get her to rest even a little bit. She even hated rotating another goalie in. She wanted to be in every game, in every play and every practice.
“Honestly, if I didn’t know from her parents telling me, I couldn’t tell you I would’ve ever known that.”
Mease said she knew midway through Freel’s freshman year that her skills on the soccer field belonged in front of the goal.
“Then, we watched her in practice and saw she was completely fearlessly, but didn’t have an understanding when she was on the field,” Mease said. “That fearlessness and aggressive play she had, we said, ‘Hey, why don’t you try goalie?'”
She had 124 saves and a save percentage of 86 this past season for a Niles team that made this year’s Division II district semifinal. She had 302 career saves.
It was her previous experience as a dancer that made her so successful.
It didn’t cross Freel’s mind to ever think of letting go of her fleet feet. It’s what made her so tough as Niles’ last line of defense.
“Big thing about being goalkeeper is being agile, like right on your feet,” Freel said. “You want to be up and down, quick for those second-shot reactions. Everything is reaction, quick reaction. You never know when a shot is going to come off. You never know if it’s going to be high or low, a lot of hand-eye coordination for sure.
“Something we work on as goalkeepers a majority is when you make a save, hold it. A lot of keepers can’t catch it. A block is great, of course. It didn’t go in the goal. A block, it ends up three feet in front of you and somebody’s going to crash and then you have barely any chance of saving that because you’re already on the ground. The big thing would be kick the ball straight when you hold it.”
Ironically enough, Freel plans to major in physical therapy at Mount Union. She has a way of making opposing forwards feel the pain of a shot on goal going for naught, Mease said.
“Coming in as a freshman, she has a great chance to make an impact right away,” Mease said. “I think she has the possibility to continue to get better. I don’t think she’s peaked or reached her full potential by any means. I think she has a long, successful road ahead of her with the amazing coaching they have up there. I think she’s only going to get better.”