By Cheryl Hatch
Special to The Meadville Tribune
When Brianna Layman was in the fifth grade, her coach told her soccer wasn’t her game.
Saturday, Layman joined her Allegheny teammates as they played against Thomas More College in the opening round of the NCAA Divison III national tournament.
On Nov. 9, Layman, from Wexford, and her teammates on the Allegheny women’s soccer team defeated Wittenberg to earn a berth in the first round of the tournament.
“It didn’t hit me till the buzzer rang that’d we’d won,” said Layman, a chemistry major with an art minor. “I saw my dad first and I ran to him.”
Layman jumped into her father’s embrace and wrapped her legs around his waist and arms tightly around his neck.
“He was tearing up. I could hear his voice getting all wiggly,” Layman said. “He was giving me a kiss and telling me how proud he was of me and how far I’d come.”
“She’s always had to work hard for everything she’s gotten,” said her father, Jeff Layman. “Soccer. School. She’s done it on her own.”
She played from 5th to 8th grade for the coach who didn’t believe in her.
“He just didn’t think I had any talent in soccer, but soccer was what I wanted to do, so I kept playing,” said Layman, who plays outside defense/outside forward.
Her family supported her at games and at home.
“My parents were honest with me,” Layman said. “They had always told me don’t quit. I can cry as much as I want to and that won’t change anything. I owe my drive and my heart to my parents.”
Layman’s drive brought her to Allegheny as a freshman transfer student last spring. She had been recruited by Shippensburg and played Division II soccer. After her first semester, she realized she needed more academically.
Last fall, she visited Allegheny.
“I fell in love as soon as I finished the tour,” Layman said, adding that the Allegheny’s costs were daunting.
Once again, she knew what she wanted and she wasn’t deterred. Allegheny offered her a financial aid package that made it affordable for Layman, who pays her own way.
“Everything fit,” head coach Mike Webber said of Layman joining the team. “She just tells me, just put me anywhere. That’s a special person. She’s happy for the success of the team. That smile. She’s happy to be on the field.”
Her smile is her trademark; so is her toughness.
“I love Bri,” said teammate Lauren Miller, an outside defender and sophomore in biology. “We love the game so it’s not work. It’s joy. She’s definitely got that intensity underneath her smile.”
And she knows how to rally her team with her determination and enthusiasm — on and off the pitch.
On Nov. 7, the team competed in the Student Athlete Advisory Committee’s talent show. Layman found a video of Shakira’s “Waka Waka,” the official song of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The team learned the dance in two nights and won second place in the competition.
Team captain Michelle Holcomb said Layman is motivational, adaptable and free-spirited.
And Holcomb said she understands the source of her motivation. She, too, had a coach who didn’t believe in her abilities on the pitch.
“You’re just not cut out to play competitive soccer,” Holcomb said, reciting her coach’s words. “Every one of us on this field has a story like that. In a way, that also gives you motivation to prove everyone wrong.
“No offense. Small liberal arts college. Division III,” Holcomb said. “We’re always underdogs. This year we want to prove to people that we can make it past the first game. We’re trying to go as far as we can.”
Years later, Layman proved her coach wrong. A college coach, he approached Layman after a high school game and invited her to play for him.
She passed. And if she saw him today?
“I would just say thank you for giving me a backbone,” Layman said. “Succeeding feels so much better when you prove people wrong.
“People tell you sometimes you need to think with your head more than your heart cuz your heart wants things it can’t have,” Layman said. “I think it’s the opposite. I think your heart tells you what you want and your mind tells you how to do it.”
And Layman wants to play soccer — and she wants to win.