Sophomore brings diversity to Rutgers
“Wally! Wally,” screamed Rutgers head field hockey coach Meredith Long to get sophomore defender Sofia Walia’s attention Sunday against New Hampshire and give her instructions.
The nickname “Wally” has been with her since her freshman year, created by her teammates because, as Walia put it, “There can’t be two ‘Soph’s’ when coach is calling out,” referring to senior teammate Sophie Wright.
Walia has become an integral part of what the Scarlet Knights are looking to do and although she is an underclassman, her influence on the back three on the field is undeniable.
Walia has the label of a defender, but she also has a big impact on the offensive side. She has five goals, which is second on the team, as well as five assists, most on the team.
“I’m limited on offense, but it’s definitely something I enjoy,” Walia said. “Offense is something that kind of happens for me.”
Walia holds a distinct honor as the first ever Sikh player in Division I history. Her religion is something she prides herself on.
“My religion is really important to me,” Walia said. “It’s a big part of me, and I carry it with me.”
Walia was born in Surrey, British Columbia, in Canada on the opposite side of North America in relation to Rutgers, which is why she never thought she would end up a Knight.
“I actually was looking to stay home,” Walia said. “I never knew I wanted to come here.”
The reason she came here is fellow Canadian and sophomore teammate Alyssa Bull and her sister, Jenna, a former Rutgers field hockey player.
Bull and Walia met at the Canadian Junior National field hockey program roughly seven years ago, when they became friends.
As Bull remembers it, Walia told her she wanted to stay home, but Bull became the recruiter to lure Wally to Piscataway, New Jersey.
“I told her, ‘No, no, you have to come to the states and see the school,’ and she came to Rutgers where she fell in love with the team and the whole atmosphere,” Bull said.
Another big reason Walia chose to come to Rutgers was that she wanted to be a part of an up-and-coming program.
“I wanted to be a part of a program that wasn’t already winning championships,” Walia said. “I wanted to be a part of a program that was developing.”
Field hockey has absorbed much of Walia’s life, as she played since the age of 6. She has been a standout in her home country training with the Canadian National Team, Junior U17 and Junior U21 teams.
She hasn’t played with the national team, but it is a big honor to be called up to train with such prestigious talent.
She thinks this experience has helped her become the player she is today. She adapts to what is asked of her, and as the years progressed, she has been able to get a grip on the game and understand it more.
Walia accredits her improvement to multiple people, but she feels coming to Rutgers has really helped further her development.
“The coaching staff is the best I’ve ever been coached by in the 14 years I’ve been playing,” Walia said of Long and assistant coaches Lauren Burke and Roland Peekel.
Long chose to recruit Walia for a multitude of reasons, but it was her skill that really caught her eye.
“Wally is an international caliber player,” Long said. “She wants to play at the next level and on the international stage, and she really brings a high level of competitiveness to our program. She elevates the players around her.”
With two years of eligibility left for Walia, the future is looking bright.
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