Ally Loper can do it all on the soccer field.
And not just on it.
Loper is a senior on the Nazareth Academy High School soccer team, and this year she’ll likely play center midfield when the Pandas start their season next month. Last year, she was a defensive midfielder and the year before she was a defender.
So she’s quite comfortable lining up anywhere she’s needed.
But she’s just as competent on the sidelines. Or while calling the game.
“On weekends, I coach a U-4 team at my club (Hulmeville), and I have so much fun doing it,” said Loper, who lives in Bensalem. “It’s fun because the whole goal is to keep them interested in playing sports. You’re not really coaching them, but you’re trying to make the game fun. I really love doing it.”
After she’s done coaching, she turns her attention to officiating and helps out by refereeing games for the soccer club. That helps her see another aspect of the game.
“When I’m playing or coaching, I’ll see things one way, and when I’m refereeing, I see it another way, so I think it helps me understand where everyone is coming from,” Loper said. “It’s a hard job. I love doing it, though. Everyone is nice. But sometimes I’ll do something and I’ll think, ‘I wouldn’t like that,’ if I was on the other end. I just love being around the game, whenever I can be around soccer, I’m having fun.”
Loper is prepared to have a lot of fun. And the Pandas are the only city team ready to begin the fall season.
Nazareth is in the Catholic Academies League, and unlike the Philadelphia Catholic League and Public League, the Academies League is a go for the fall. The season is delayed a bit while everyone figured out how the season would progress, but now it’s full steam ahead, and Loper couldn’t be happier for her team. But she’s very sympathetic to those who have had their season interrupted by coronavirus.
“I feel so bad for everyone, especially the seniors,” Loper said. “To start something, to work so hard and then not have a chance to finish it, it’s awful. I feel so bad for them because I know how much I wanted to play. They want to play, too. I wish they could. I really wish they were playing, too.”
But Loper is playing, and she plans on taking full advantage of her chance.
The Pandas come into the season like every team, a little behind because of the restrictions put on because of COVID-19. But Loper never stopped staying in shape, so she’s ready to get out and do her thing.
“I stayed in shape by working out a lot, but it’s not the same thing as playing,” said Loper, who plays on two club teams to stay in shape, but was unable to play at all for a few months during the shutdown. “You can do whatever you want, if you’re not playing, you’re not in playing shape. It’s such a difference. When you’re playing soccer, you’re doing things you can’t do when you’re not playing. It’s completely different.
“But I did work out a lot, and I’m in shape. I feel like if I’m not in shape, I’m cheating my team and my teammates. When you play soccer, you have to come in in shape. It’s the most important thing. Because if you’re not in shape, you have to spend so much time getting in shape instead of working.”
Now Loper and her teammates are working. And they hope the work pays off.
Nazareth has a tough task ahead of itself. The Pandas will play all of their foes in league play, and that should make for a difficult schedule. But Loper loves what she has on her side.
“I think we should be really good this year,” said Loper, who will be in her third year as a starter. “We lost a lot of good players, but every team loses good players in high school. I think we have a lot of good players coming back, and everyone seems ready to play.”
Loper knows a big season for her could lead to bigger things next year. She wants to play soccer in college, and the senior captain knows a big year will help her accomplish that goal.
She also has goals beyond soccer.
“I want to major in physical therapy,” said Loper, who is a member of student council and is a member of the Naz-A-Thon fundraising team. “I want to work with younger kids, help them when they get hurt. It’s from the coaching. I love working with little kids. I want to help them. I think I’d be good at it because I love working with them.”
She also wants to get going with her final year as a Panda.
Loper knows a lot of players who want to be out there are unable to, and she’s going to make the most of her opportunity.
“I’m happy we’re having a season,” said Loper, who will play with her sister Abby, a sophomore. “I love playing for Nazareth. Going there was the best decision ever.
“It really is like a family. I love everything about the school. I love playing soccer there and I love going there. It’s really helped me so much in many different ways. We’re one big family.”
And Loper knows how important family can be.
Other than her sister, whom she is close to, she’s also tight with her young brother, Robert, also a soccer player, an eighth-grader. She also has a great relationship with her parents, who have helped her get where she is.
Dad in sports, mom in school.
“Whenever I need someone to play with, my dad will play,” Loper said. “He’ll work out with me. He was a great athlete, he played soccer. He coaches me. He’s taught me so much.
“My mom? No, she’s not involved with soccer at all. But she’s a big help, too. Whenever I need help with school, I go to her. They both help me any way they can.”