Story and photos by Kurt Johnson
Tryouts for the 2014 Timpview High girls soccer team brought a surprise for defender Weslee Baird. After two years spent working to earn a coveted spot on the Thunderbird varsity, the junior was greeted with the news of her placement on the junior varsity for yet one more season.
Eric Brady was a first-year head coach for the Thunderbirds, and he had not seen enough from Baird to warrant her inclusion on his varsity roster.
“It was interesting because her and another player got put on JV, and they handled it in two opposite ways,” Brady said. “The other player instantly when she found out said, ‘No way, I’m not going to do it.’ She never went to a JV practice, quit and transferred from the school.”
Baird, on the other hand, took a couple of days and made a different decision
“I looked at the list, at the varsity, and my name wasn’t up there, it was on the JV,” Baird said. “I was thinking, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I’ve never been cut from a team. My parents were the first source I went to. Parents give you the best advice and they really know what they’re talking about. They said, ‘It’s up to you. We’ll support you either way.’
“It was so hard for me because all my best friends last year were on varsity and seeing them do all the varsity stuff and going to the retreat was super hard for me. We had the first JV practice and I didn’t go. I wanted to quit. I didn’t want to be on JV. I decided to go to the third practice. I said, ‘I don’t know for sure if I want to play soccer in college anyway, so this is just going to be for fun.'”
Brady knew how hard it was for Baird to be out there with the junior varsity team. He also recognized that he might have missed something in the initial evaluation.
“Weslee was heartbroken, disappointed,” Brady said. “She got caught in the coaching change. I did not know her and there was nothing that really stood out, there was no passion or aggressiveness in the tryouts. Maybe, I probably missed…had I seen her more, a month or two in club, I could have seen what she could do.
“Maybe I missed something there, I might have, but I wouldn’t change it for anything because she, despite having her heart broken, went to practice. The JV coach told me she had a great attitude, did the best with it and then went out there and did good.”
A Chance at Varsity
Then the injury bug bit the Thunderbirds, giving Baird a chance, and she was determined to make it count.
“My first varsity playing time was at Mountain View and I remember I was so excited. ‘Finally this is what I’ve been waiting for forever,'” Baird said. “The next game, we played Wasatch – I remember who we played – and I got my first varsity start. The first couple of games I was just, “Whew, I’m on varsity.’ I was a little shaky, but after I got settled in, I played super good soccer and I think it’s carried over to this season.”
Brady’s memories of those first few games, and what followed them, is very much the same as Baird’s.
“We did have some injuries, some opportunities, we pulled her up to varsity, put her out there… a little shaky…but after she kind of felt comfortable, she was amazing and was first-team all-region,” Brady said. “She went from being cut to making first-team all-region.”
Now Baird is a senior and an established varsity star, the leader of a Timpview back line that has allowed just 14 goals while the team has compiled a 13-1-1 record as it heads into the postseason.
Brady loves Baird’s story of perseverance and ultimate success on the pitch. He sees it as proof of what he loves most about coaching, it’s place as a vehicle for teaching values.
“Again, maybe some of that (her being sent down to JV) was me, but now that I’ve been able to have a whole year behind it, it was good, because she was lackadaisical in her play, and she didn’t appreciate out there,” Brady said. “From there, she was coachable the whole year. She did everything that was asked and more, she had such heart and has been amazing ever since.
“This year, that’s potentially a first-team, second-team all-state player. One of my biggest quotes with these girls is, ‘Failure is fertilizer.’ Everyone’s going to fail. How are you going to deal with that? She’s embodied everything in how she’s dealing with that. That I love.
“Weslee is someone that the girls look up to. She’s got such a great attitude and is so perfect from a leadership position. She’s positive, inspiring. She’s just so fun and you just love to coach girls like that, you just love it.”
Baird also looks back on the totality of the experience and appreciates it for the learning opportunity it became.