Huntington University women’s soccer coach Amanda Burge is entering her first off-season at the Forester helm and has shifted her focus from the pitch to the recruiting trail.
At the mid-November point, Burge has tallied two 2017 commits and recruited two former players to return to the forest green and white. One such player is MaKayla Barrantes, a current junior accounting major, who is coming off a one-season hiatus.
The Greenacres, Florida, native played two seasons for the Foresters before deciding to quit the sport she had played for the past fifteen years. Her soccer career began at age four when her dad, who doubled as her coach for many years, taught her the sport.
Barrantes grew up with the dream of playing at her parents’ alma mater, Taylor University. But when her family made the trek to Indiana her junior year for an ID camp with the Trojans, her dad convinced her to visit Huntington, a school she’d never heard of and was the last on her list.
“I just fell in love with Huntington,” she said. “I really wanted to go there, but my dream had always been to play at Taylor.”
Her contact with Taylor fell through, and Chris Tillett, Huntington’s head coach at the time, wanted her to become a Forester.
“I was ticked at first,” Barrantes said. “But it was a total God thing that I ended up playing here in the first place.”
After two years, Barrantes reevaluated her decision. She said that while there were several reasons she didn’t play in 2016, the physical demand of the sport was the most significant.
“I’m just hurt a lot,” she said.
Barrantes battles more than the occasional sprained ankle or sore muscles, however. She suffers from a disease called rheumatoid arthritis, which affects her joints—lengthening her recovery time and increasing her susceptibility to injury.
“My shoulders swell up, and my knees will just ache. There’s no moving them,” she said. “My ankles roll all the time, and my right wrist is useless.”
After spending four months working through a stress fracture, which typically sidelines an athlete for a few weeks, during her sophomore year, Barrantes was feeling the strain.
Then Tillett resigned.
“So then [my dad and I] had a conversation,” she said. “And I was like, ‘Dad, Tillett did as well as he could with my joints. How am I going to be able to get another coach to know what it’s like and to support me?’”
Bearing this thought, Barrantes traveled on a mission trip to Thailand with the university in January 2016.
“And God began to challenge me on my identity,” she said.
Barrantes said she realized she was putting her identity in soccer and playing time to avoid making her disease her identity.
“God showed me I needed to sacrifice this thing that was my entire life and to give it up to him,” she said. “And it’s really confusing now, because I’m like, “Why is this back?’”
When Barrantes moved in this fall, she was encouraged by her former teammates to rejoin the team. She thought about managing but feared that would conflict with her dedication to let go.
“I started going to games,” she said. “I started hanging out with the girls again, and I started missing it a lot.”
At the end of the season, Barrantes participated with the current team in the program’s annual Homecoming alumni game, which served as the perfect opportunity to connect with Burge.
“She came up to me before the game,” Barrantes said. “She put her arm around me and said, ‘I hear we need to have a conversation. We’ll have it, but I know how it’s going to end.’”
The pair met a few weeks later, giving Barrantes the chance to explain her circumstance to Burge, who asked the junior to return for her senior season.
Barrantes enters her final season with a new mentality—to put herself in the backseat and to lead by example through hard work.
“I just want to serve that team,” she said. “I’d love to serve on the field, but if that’s not the way it is, just being a part of it will be enough for me.”
Barrantes said she’s seeking to emulate the vulnerability and leadership the senior classes before her offered the team. She credits much of her development during college to the community they fostered.
“Although I haven’t had the privilege of coaching Mak,” Burge said, “her response to an invitation to play next fall speaks volumes about the type of character and perspective she’ll bring to our family.”
Barrantes began working out with the team in October and said she has “been feeling really good.”
“It’s nice to be supported [by Burge] because it isn’t like, ‘You’re taking it easy,’’ she said. “It’s more like, ‘You’re doing enough.’ She makes me feel like I’m just taking care of my body, not making excuses.”
Burge said she’s confident the midfielder will pick up right where she left off.
“As a coaching staff, we couldn’t be more excited to have her,” Burge said.