Sitting in anxious silence, former Gamecock women's soccer forward Ryan Gareis awaited the moment that would change her life: hearing her name called on draft night. After three to four hours, Gareis received a phone call from Houston, and it was then that her lifetime goal had turned into reality.
Gareis said her childhood dream was fulfilled when she was selected by the Houston Dash with the 44th pick of the 2022 NWSL Draft on Dec. 18, 2021.
“When I got that (call), the amount of joy and excitement that came over me was undescribable,” Gareis, a senior, said.
Gareis’ dream of playing professional soccer began when her parents signed her up to play the sport at a young age, she said.
“They signed me up for almost everything, and soccer is the one that I just stuck with and that I fell in love with,” Gareis said.
As her skills and desire to play college soccer began to grow, Gareis said she ultimately decided to continue her athletic career at South Carolina because of the welcoming environment the soccer program had to offer.
“When I first visited South Carolina, they advertised the program as a family-based environment,” Gareis said. “And obviously, that sounds really nice, but when I got there, I got to see that in its full effect, and I think that’s what made it so much more enjoyable.”
Since then, Gareis has become not just a starter and standout player on the field, but a valuable leader for the women’s soccer program, head coach Shelley Smith said.
“She’s always been such a wonderful person to work with and a pleasure to have around and a great teammate,” Shelley Smith said. “(She’s) a really important part of our program because you want players like that, that dedicate themselves to the game, but also to the team.”
Smith said she is impressed with how Gareis was able to develop her game — something that will help her in her career.
“She really did a good job to get stronger physically, especially over this past year, and that helped her have a great senior season and give herself a chance to play at the pro level,” Smith said.
Gareis has spent much of the winter training individually and scrimmaging against professional men's players in preparation for her rookie season.
“With my hopes of my name getting called, this past offseason and winter break, I really worked on the individual things that I feel like I needed to improve going into the professional game,” Gareis said. “They’re just a lot more tactically-skilled. They work faster on the ball. They’re strong.”
Those efforts, along with the countless hours she spent over the years honing her craft, were eventually rewarded with her draft selection.
“When my name was called, my family went crazy and one of my best friends who was watching it,” Gareis said. “We all just started screaming and jumping up and down. It was really fun.”
The head coach and assistant coach said they are proud of how far she has come.
“She has a Pied Piper personality that Houston will benefit from, not only because she’s going to be a good player for them and will work hard to improve for them, but her in the community for Houston or any pro club will return dividends to them because that’s just the kind of person that she is," Jamie Smith, the assistant coach, said.
Gareis said she hopes to take full advantage of this opportunity and to one day become a leader for the Houston Dash.
“Now that I’m so excited about it, and now that it is my reality, I hope to take it as long as I possibly can," Gareis said.