FIVE-time national schools’ champion goalkeeper Akyla Walcott (Pleasantville Secondary) has earned a full scholarship with Essex County College in New Jersey.
The 18-year-old will pursue a Bachelor’s in Physical Education while training and competing with the school’s Lady Wolverines football team. Her first semester begins in September.
Walcott is optimistic her journey to the US will help further develop her goalkeeping skills and provide the necessary international experience needed to build her career.
The Pleasantville custodian, who transferred from San Fernando East Secondary in 2017, won a hat-trick of titles during her first season there. That year, Pleasantville lifted the Girls Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL), National Intercol and Big Five titles.
In the following season, Walcott and her teammates retained the SSFL and Intercol titles but lost the Big Five finals to Signal Hill Secondary.
Soon after, the pandemic hit in mid-March 2020, and to date, school is yet to resume, far less a return to national inter-school competitions.
Walcott graduated virtually last year but was unable to maintain a proper training regime owing to public health regulations.
In July however, she joined a small goalkeeping academy – Save A Ball, Save A Soul – in Union Hall, San Fernando headed by former Naparima College and Princes Town Secondary goalkeeper Rondell Renwick.
Walcott was able to resume training alongside a group of other young male secondary school goalies such as Raheem Lee (Pleasantville Secondary), Levi Hernandez and Rashard Hart (Naparima custodians) and former “Pres” now current TT Beach Soccer goalie Jabari Gray, among others.
She was the lone female goaltender among the bunch of rising talents who capitalised on this rare opportunity to maintain their craft during the downtime.
At the academy, she improved tremendously since all her prior training between the sticks came from her previous sessions with Pleasantville.
To assess, keep track and evaluate his students’ progress, Renwick recorded the group’s training sessions. This allowed Walcott to build her own player highlight video which she disbursed to a couple football scouts.
She received the anticipated call from Essex County College on New Year’s Day this year and was called to train with the national women’s football team in July, under new head coach James Thomas. Walcott worked with goalkeeping coach James Baird.
The young talent arrived in New Jersey on August 8 and is ready to begin this new chapter.
“This is one of my dreams coming true because to go abroad to play was always a goal of mine. I’m also grateful to have been selected to train with the senior team but I had to stop short to head up to New Jersey.
“I want the experience there to take me to that international level because I will be playing against players from all around the world. Competing against them I will be able to up my game and move on to bigger things,” she said.
She credited Renwick’s academy for providing a platform for “the forgotten” young goalkeepers during the pandemic.
During her training there, she was able to interact and work with former TT goalie Marvin Phillip, Kelvin Jack and ex-TT Pro League custodian Adisa Alleyne (Police).
“Before I began training with coach Rondel, I never really had goalkeeper training; just the little that we did in school. So when I really started to train with a goalkeeper coach, I began to better understand the proper training techniques and my entire game changed.
“If it weren’t for the academy, I don’t think I would have needed it (goalkeeping) for school (in TT). Women’s football doesn’t get much coverage like the males. So unless you really make the national team, you don’t really have much footage of yourself to provide to scouts,” she added.
She was even assisted by the videographer who recorded their sessions to build her highlight reel for scouts.
Renwick believes Walcott has a bright future ahead of her. He said she had three goals she wanted to achieve when they first met; to obtain a scholarship, to get called to the national team and to go pro.
Renwick said, “Immediately we started to put in the work that’s required to achieve these goals. Thus far two of those goals have manifested. Her willingness to work hard and humility in taking critique advice played a huge part in her rapid progress.
“Some days in training her, it will literally be blood, sweat and tears, but she never gave up. I’m not surprised to see the blessings that are following her at this moment.
“Faith without works is dead and what a man sow is that he will reap. Akyla is reaping the benefits of applying these principles,” he said.
Having received word of from Renwick of Walcott’s journey through the ranks, Denis Latiff, Tiger Tanks general manager, opted to assist he youngster on her new quest.
Latiff helped source some of her school books, laptop, and airfare to aid Walcott in offsetting some of her overhead costs.
Renwick concluded, “Mr. Latiff is that type of individual, always willing to help a good cause without looking for anything in return. We are thankful for his input in her journey.”
Walcott will compete in the National Junior College Athletic Association region in which Essex women’s football team are four-time division one champions over the past seven years.