The Grind is a weekly series from Forsyth Sports presented exclusively by Scott's Auto Center.
Erin Houlihan inherited her love for soccer from her older brothers. As a kid, battles for possession of the ball in the back yard were sufficient entertainment. They also conditioned Houlihan to be a fiery competitor.
Now competition is the name of the game for Pinecrest Academy’s rising junior. With classes over—Houlihan had done well enough in the spring semester to exempt her exams—she was the only one in Pinecrest’s dried practice field, seemingly out-of-commission for the offseason. There, she and varsity head coach Domenic Martelli couldn’t stop chatting about the soccer Houlihan had in store for her weekend.
Houlihan was mentally preparing for the Georgia State Cup, played in Columbus over the weekend. She was heading down with her United Futbol Academy team, which she has played with since the seventh grade, with the goal of a club state title in mind. It was clear, through conversation, that Houlihan had already taken great interest in the competition she would face down there—which teams were going to be in the queue, and what she would have to do to get to the top.
At 5-foot-9, with powerful legs and a matured demeanor, it’s hard to believe that Houlihan isn’t a departing senior, or a college athlete. She’ll tell you, however, that she feels like one already, though she knows her growth must continue.
“I’m looking forward to getting down to State Cup because I just love the competition,” Houlihan said. “What I like about club ball is I know there will always be someone out there better than me, and that pushes me to improve. It’s difficult to improve if you’re not testing yourself on a regular basis.”
Houlihan was in high demand, even as a freshman in high school. At club events she was used to showing up to games with dozens of college coaches lining the fields. She’d follow through on the obligation to make phone calls, send emails and follow up as she realized playing in college could become a reality.
As someone who wants to get things done, she had no doubts about committing to play Division I soccer at Furman University, a private school in Greenville, S.C., as a sophomore.
“It’s very stressful, the recruiting process,” Houlihan said. “It’s exciting too for sure, knowing that they want you. As soon as I committed there was a huge weight off my shoulders. I didn’t have to send applications anymore; I could just focus on my studies and try to improve my standing with them.
“Even if I wasn’t playing Division I soccer, I know Furman would be the right place anyway, so I just feel really good about it.”
Houlihan can go on a tangent about the benefits of playing collegiate soccer outside of the game she loves. Even though she’s still addicted to the game she picked up against her brothers in the back yard, her maturity offers alternative perspectives.
“I’m just so blessed to have the ability to play this game at a high level,” Houlihan said. “I want to succeed the best I can now and down the line because college puts you in a position to be a better person. It tests your patience on the field, it reminds me to test my discipline and wanting to be fit and being the best I can be. I’ve also already started to time manage really well. I find that very important.”
Indeed—she sounds like she’s already hit the books in a dorm room somewhere, but Houlihan still has goals with the Pinecrest Academy soccer team.
In her sophomore year she took it upon herself to lead the team through the loss of key seniors and the transition to Martelli as the new head coach after former coach Chris Kane was promoted to athletic director. Martelli implemented a new formation, and it was Houlihan who helped the team commit to a new normal.
“We lost a big presence in the midfield last year so I kind of had to find a way to express myself and show everyone that we needed to work together, maybe to try to establish that dominance at midfield. I had to reestablish that role.”
She succeeded. Houlihan scored 22 goals and had 16 assists as a midfielder. The Paladins advanced to the state playoffs, where they fell 1-0 to the Atlanta International School. Still, the team compiled a 6-2 record in Region 6-A and finished 10-9 on the season. Houlihan hopes to get the Lady Paladins back to the playoffs and further in 2017. Martelli thinks she will lead the way.
“She’s our best soccer player,” Martelli said. “She would put games on her shoulders and win them for us by getting that goal we needed.”