In what would be one of the toughest moments of her life, then-14-year-old Ali Armstrong made the decision in 2018 to give up a sport she had been playing year-round since she was 4 years old.
A freshman at Centralia High School at the time, Armstrong had become a formidable soccer player after spending years playing for the Rainier Valley Slammers and Black Hills FC select travel teams.
But after a decade of her entire life revolving around soccer, playing it year-round, 24/7, Armstrong had given too much to the sport. She needed a break, more mentally than physically. So she took one.
“There was a lot of stuff going on in life and it was just kind of hard for me and I wanted to see if I could find my mental happiness,” Armstrong said.
Soon after, she transferred to Pe Ell High School, where the Trojans don’t offer high school soccer. That made giving up the sport a bit easier and, to fill her time, she began racing dirt bikes with her family.
Though she knew she needed a mental break from soccer, it was never far from her mind.
“I thought about it every day,” Armstrong said. “It really made me sad but I wanted to figure out a balance.”
She admits, the thought did cross her mind that she may never play again, especially as she entered her senior year in fall of 2020. Time was winding down and her chances of getting back on the pitch were waning.
“I just kept going and tried to do everything that made me happy,” Armstrong said.
It wasn’t until about seven months ago, in December 2020, that Armstrong found out about Twin Cities Union FC, a local select soccer team that travels around the state to compete.
Coach Noel Vazquez, who is also the girls head coach at Toledo High School and an assistant for Centralia College women’s soccer, invited her to come check the team out. After a few practices, he asked her to keep coming back and join the team.
It was then she knew it was time for a comeback.
“I was ready,” Armstrong said.
She practiced for three-straight months before stepping on the pitch in January 2021 for her first real, live competition since 2018.
“I was super nervous but I was really excited,” Armstrong said.
This spring, Vazquez asked her to come watch one of Centralia College’s games. He introduced her to Trailblazers head coach Clarence Gundersen, who offered her a spot on the team soon after.
It caught her off guard considering she had only been playing again for a few months at the time after taking a three-year break from the sport. She knew she had to jump at the opportunity.
Armstrong, an aggressive striker and wing, is looking forward to starting her academic and athletic career at Centralia College this fall.
She’ll join a Trailblazers team that went 3-5-1 overall and in league, finishing in a three-way tie for second place in the West Region with 10 points.
Vazquez is confident she’ll make an immediate impact on the team.
“Ali is a very talented player that, if she were to play high school soccer, you could pick her out by her skill and determination,” Vazquez said. “She works hard and fights for the ball every time she can.
“The type of forward she is, you don’t see it out there very much anymore; a forward that puts pressure and makes defenders struggle with the ball. I’m excited to see her at the next level.”
Armstrong hopes to eventually move on to a university and get a degree in child education.
She’s thankful for the support of her dad, T.J, who’s always had her back, and her uncle, Kenny, who’s helping pay for her college.
And she’s also grateful for the rekindled love of the game she’s given so much to over the years — one that is also giving back to her.
“It just makes me happy,” Armstrong said. “It’s the only thing that’s made me happy with everything I’m going through in life. The only thing that’s always been there is soccer.”