The 2018 Senior Perspectives is the 13th in a series of annual collections. Senior captains and representatives of teams at Harvard have been invited to contribute viewpoints based on personal experience from both their senior seasons and full varsity careers at Harvard.
Dani Stollar, Women's Soccer
Hometown: Honolulu, Hawaii
Concentration: History & Science
House Affiliation: Dunster
When I was first told that the head coach from Harvard was interested in recruiting me, I was torn. As flattered as I was, I was also doubtful that I would have any chance at all of being admitted into one of the most prestigious universities in the world. This insecurity would become a theme in my college soccer career - a personal challenge that I was finally able to master with the help of my family, my coaches and my teammates.
Luckily, my parents took a much more optimistic approach. My dad’s enthusiasm and his endless belief in were essential in earning me a spot on the Harvard roster. It was him who pushed back against my doubts, making me invite the coaches to come see me play, and stay in touch. These first steps of a long journey towards putting myself out there were rewarded with the letter of admission a year later.
When I came in as a freshman, I was prepared to work hard, stay humble, and ride the bench as I waited for my chance. But, to my surprise, I did not only find myself getting substantial playing time from the beginning, but in fact, emerged as a starting player throughout the season. From the outside, it must have seemed like everything was going my way - I should have been nothing but proud and happy.
My reality was very different. Today, I remember my freshman fall as blur of stress and anxiety. Overwhelmed by the instant responsibility that I had to take on the field, I played in constant fear of messing up; a fear that caused me to struggle with terrible insomnia throughout my first year at college. Too often was I unable to fall asleep before 5am the night before a game, feeling accordingly on game-day.
Somehow I managed to play through all of this. We ended the season with the Ivy League Championship, even advancing to the second round of the NCAA tournament, and I was both shocked and honored to receive the Ivy League Rookie of the Year. But as amazing as these successes felt, the truth remained that the season had taken a huge toll on my emotional and mental stability.
I wish I could say that from that point on everything changed.
Instead, I continued to struggle with my confidence as a player, even as my coaches and teammates assured me over and over again that I was doing great and just had to believe in myself. I was performing well, but I was feeling a constant anxiety nonetheless.
It was not until senior season that I found the heart and courage to step up to the leadership role that I had been assigned to from the very start. We had high hopes for the season, but things seemed to just not be going our way. Before the conference had even begun, we had lost both of our captains to injuries, leaving only two seniors, including myself, to lead a team that was primarily made up of freshmen who were talented, but lacked experience.
It was under these circumstances that I found myself truly able to move beyond my personal anxieties for the first time. No longer was my mind occupied with all the mistakes I had to avoid making when I stepped on the field. Instead, I was able to focus on uplifting the team spirit, directing other players on the field and making sure we stayed together in the face of overwhelming adversity.
I now realize that this transition had always been a work in progress. Even though it took some time for my confidence to manifest on and off the field, the struggles of the first seasons had prepared me to finally step outside my comfort zone, and to be there for the team when I was needed the most.
Moreover, I am certain that I would not have been able to accomplish what I did this past year had I not been constantly surrounded by the impressive, inspirational, and interesting women who make up Harvard women’s soccer. These women believed in me, they challenged me, and, crucially, they never left my side. After years of watching and learning from these leaders who had come and gone through the program, I had finally become one. The amazing thing I have come to realize is the lessons I learned from them far transcend the sport itself. The people in this program have helped me and so many young girls transform into strong women, confident enough to take on anything we put our minds our minds to. They are what make having been part of this program an experience that I am incredibly proud of, and that I wouldn’t trade for world.