Mary Alexander, ’21, was kicking a soccer ball by the time she turned two years old, and played recreationally for a few years. She began playing competitively at six years old and began her career as an elite soccer player at the age of eight.
Now a sophomore who was recently elected to the NCISAA 2A All-State Team, Alexander competed for—and won—a spot on Davidson Day’s Varsity Girls Soccer Team as a 7th grader.
Why? “I want to play collegiate soccer,” says Alexander. “I know for sure that’s something that I want to do, and it’s always been something that I’ve wanted to do.”
Alexander is balancing playing her fourth consecutive year for the Davidson Day Patriots with her commitment to her year-round club soccer team that often travels across the east coast and to tournaments across the U.S. and Europe.
Traveling—with her team, and in some cases, by herself to join her team—is just one way that playing elite soccer prepared Alexander for college and for a potential career as an elite athlete.
“There are a lot of transferrable skills,” says Alexander. “I’ve learned how to bond with people, and how to be a part of a team.”
Attitude and relationships
“I’ve had many struggles that I’ve had to overcome,” says Alexander, including a broken collarbone suffered in the eighth grade. “My personal attitude has grown me as a person.”
“I’ve been through a lot—just through playing soccer—and that will help me deal with challenging experiences later in my life.” Through it all, Alexander has valued her role as a teammate and as an athlete.
“You’re a team, you’re going to play as a team, you’re going to succeed or fail as a team, you’re going to do it together,” says Alexander. “Being a part of a team teaches you to have great relationships with people, and to work with people.”
Relationships matter—including the coach-athlete relationship. “My first coach has been “my coach” for most of my club soccer career, ever since I was six years old and began playing soccer pretty much every weekend,” says Alexander. “I’ve had other coaches, but he’s been a huge help.”
When Alexander joined Davidson Day as a sixth grader, she was really happy to find a community of people that valued relationships.
“I came here and felt like this was the perfect size,” says Alexander. “Davidson Day is the most amazing place.” Alexander joined the Davidson Day Varsity Girls Soccer team as a 7th grader.
“By playing on our varsity team, Mary met the challenge of playing with older student-athletes to enhance her development as a player,” says Varsity Soccer Head Coach and Upper School Chemistry Teacher Brad Laatsch.
“The really interesting thing was that Mary’s presence on our varsity team as a 7th and then 8th grader was that her contributions on the field helped us win and her presence helped cement our team’s culture,” says Mr. Laatsch. “Mary’s competitive—yet collaborative—nature also helped develop the skills and collaboration of her teammates, some of whom were five years her senior.”
When Alexander joined the upper school as a 9th grader, Mr. Laatsch also became her advisor.
“I like and appreciate Mr. Laatsch because he can be really hard on us at some times, but when we’re upset, or when I get down, he can help us get over it and focus on the next play or the next game,” says Alexander. “I’ve known him the whole time I’ve been at Davidson Day, and he’s been a huge help to me in navigating the college search process.”
For Alexander, coaches and advisors need to be able to hold student-athletes accountable to their goals, and the best way to ensure that will occur is to build a relationship founded on trust. That’s what she’s developed with Mr. Laatsch, says Alexander.
“We’ve built a relationship where I think of Mr. Laatsch as more than a teacher or coach,” says Alexander. “I think of him as a mentor in my life, in and outside of the classroom.”
“It’s clear that Mr. Laatsch actually cares about me and other students,” says Alexander. “He’ll talk with me about how I’m doing, and what’s going on with me, and he’s not just asking to ask—he’s asking because he cares.”
The Davidson Day experience
“Family,” says Alexander, “I call the Davidson Day community my second family.” Four nights a week, year round, Alexander stays late after school so that she can reduce her commute to South Charlotte for club soccer practice.
“One character trait that makes Mary special is her commitment to getting better,” says Mr. Laatsch. “There are a lot of good high school athletes, but there are few that are willing to put the time in to get better when they are on top.”
NFL quarterback Kirk Cousins had a bit of a viral moment when he told reporters that championships are built on 1,000 invisible mornings. “It’s easy to appreciate the talent of athletes during their games,” says Mr. Laatsch. “Mary is—and will continue to be—an elite athlete because she pours hours into practice and preparation, even when no one is watching.”
A regular day for Alexander involves arriving at school by 7 a.m. with her mother, Ashley Alexander, a Davidson Day teaching assistant in one of two of the school’s kindergarten classrooms, her older sister Sarah, ’20, and her younger sister Caroline, ’25.
She’s in class the duration of the school day—using study halls to begin or finish up her homework—and then once school ends, is focused on soccer.
“I just love that you enjoy a close bond with your teachers and with the other students here,” says Alexander. “Davidson Day is the most amazing place.”
In the classroom, Alexander is pursuing coursework that will prepare her for a medical profession, perhaps sports medicine. “But if I could go on to play college soccer, and go after that and play more soccer,” says Alexander, “my life would be all set.”
Pursuing a career—in soccer
That’s the goal, that’s her dream. She plays forward for her club team, with an occasional stint in the midfield. Coach Laatsch plays Alexander as a midfielder for the Patriots, deploying the 4-5-1 formation that is rarely used in NCISAA soccer.
“Instead of having three forwards up top attacking, we pull back our outside forwards as midfielders so they can run up and down the sidelines to help the attack, but also to ensure we defend our third of the field,” explains Alexander.
“If you control the middle of the field, you will win games, and it is really as simple as that,” says Mr. Laatsch. “Mary is so creative with the ball and creates scoring opportunities, many that come from her ability to see the field and anticipate the play of the defense and her teammates.”
“It’s crucial to our team, because we play a lot of teams that have very good players in their attack, so having more players back to help us defend is important,” says Alexander, “it’s a formation that has worked perfectly for our team this season because we’ll also be there helping lead our attack.”
Alexander’s success on the soccer pitch is not limited to her offensive creativity, says Mr. Laatsch. “Her desire to win is contagious and it inspires those around her.”
The formation is rarely used because it necessitates that five players on the team dominate and control each third of the field, with each player seamlessly integrating between defensive positioning and attacking the opposing team, often through long, sustained runs that require speed, vision, and precision passing.
“Good players can finish scoring chances and bury the ball in the back of the net and great players see the entire field and set up their teammates with excellent passing,” says Mr. Laatsch. “Exceptional players do both—and defend tenaciously, relentlessly—and that’s Mary.”
Alexander is already building relationships with schools with strong reputations for collegiate soccer—and also known for strong programs and career pathways into the field of medicine. She’s pursuing her dream career as an elite athlete, playing a sport she’s loved for as long as she can remember, and doing it with the same tenacity as chasing down an opposing player to win possession back for her team.
“I’ve always loved the bond I created with my teammates,” says Alexander. “It was something I loved doing—playing soccer really brings me happiness.”