By Eric Kowack
Since its inception, the DMCV Sharks have helped hundreds of San Diegans advance from club soccer to the college ranks. Bolstered by the DMCV Sharks 96/97 USYS National Championship teams (coached by Felicia Kappes), 2014-15 was a banner time for the club as in these two years the Sharks sent 30 players on to collegiate squads. Incredibly, 23 of the 25 Sharks from Coach Kappe’s teams still actively play today as student athletes. In 2017-18, the momentum from the 96/97 teams continues to inspire the club as fifteen Sharks (girls and boys) advanced to earn spots on NCAA teams including Gonzaga, Villanova, UC Santa Barbara, Cal State Fullerton, Cal State San Marcos, University of Washington, New Mexico State, University of St Thomas, Mills College and Navy. All 15 players have competed in games during their first year. Impressively, several have already earned starting roles this year as freshman.
One of these Sharks, now known as Midshipman Molly Gillcrist, established herself as a starter on the Patriot League-leading Navy women’s soccer team in her very first NCAA game. As left midfielder on Navy’s 29 player roster, Molly logs nearly 60 minutes per game for the surging Midshipmen (7-3-3, 4-0 in the Patriot League) who are on a 5-game win streak. What makes Gillcrist’s accomplishments on the field noteworthy is how she can balance the athletic commitment of a D1 starter with her full time academic and military responsibilities, all while living as a freshman (plebe) across the country from her San Diego roots.
“The Sharks Elite Soccer Program is purposely designed to help prepare players to compete at the collegiate level” said Shannon MacMillan, Executive Director of the DMCV Sharks. “That said, player success beyond the Sharks is highly dependent on the players’ themselves once they get there. The best correlations I have seen with players advancing from one level to the next is love for the game and an inner drive; Molly clearly has both.”
Armed with drive and bolstered by a supportive family, Gillcrist easily ascended through the ranks as a youth. Like so many kids in San Diego, she started the game as part of the Sharks Recreation Program. After making the Sharks Rec All-Star team she went on to Sharks competitive. By the time she completed high school, despite playing significant time as a midfielder/defender, Gillcrist accumulated 36 goals during her club/high school career with her renown left foot. “Molly was always someone to watch, we knew her time with us was just a preview of great things to come,” added MacMillan, smiling.
In fact, one of Shannon’s favorite things to do is track former Sharks after graduation. We had a chance to catch up with Molly after a practice (before she headed off to study for midterms). We first asked Molly “why Navy” amongst all her options. “I chose Navy mainly because while I wanted to play D1 soccer, I also wanted to be a Naval officer, and this was by far the best way to do so. My grandfather (USNA ’52) was a Navy admiral and the incredible stories he told me and my older brother about serving his country instilled a desire to follow his footsteps that just never went away. Being able to play soccer at the Naval Academy is such a blessing and graduating as a fleet-ready officer is an amazing opportunity that I could only get at Annapolis.”
Although the decision to enroll at Navy may have been easy, playing D1 soccer while at a military academy is a grueling challenge. Participating on an ECNL team is intended to help players transition to the next level and likely helped Molly earn a starting role. “Military commitments aside, the biggest difference between being an ECNL player and a D1 athlete is that D1 soccer is a far bigger time commitment,” shared Gillcrist, “during preseason we (Navy) practice twice a day, and during regular season, we weight train during lunch, and practice after school. Even in the off-season, we have running workouts in the morning before school.”
The hard work is paying off for Gillcrist and her teammates who are tied for first in Patriot League play. Although the spotlight may not shine on a midfielder like a star goal-scorer (note: Gillcrist does have significant stats), this hasn’t dimmed her collegiate experience in the least. “The highlight of my season is just being with the team in general. I love traveling and playing with them,” said Gillcrist. “I never dread having to go to practice because while the fitness may be hard and the scrimmages exhausting, being part of a team that really cares about one another is really the best thing ever.”
Despite the big differences, some unforeseen, between D1 soccer vs the club experience, Molly was quick to credit the Sharks, particularly her coaches, with preparing her to succeed. “Coach Goran is a big reason that I am here at the Naval Academy” insisted Gillcrist, “Without him, I would not have had the exposure or soccer ability to get in on my own.”
In addition to playing for a great Sharks coach, Molly offered strong advice to current players interested in playing after high school: “find a college that you want to go to because you love it and it’s a good fit, and then get in touch with their coaches! Don’t let soccer be the only reason you pick a school.”
When asked what her goals were for the rest of the season, she made no mention of personal endeavors but rather exclaimed “our goal is to win Patriot League this season!!” Given Molly’s track record, and the 28 players around her, no doubt this can happen as legions of Sharks players and families look on. Fans can follow Molly’s progress, including game broadcasts via the Navy portal (click to link).