Monica and Val Gonyo have had incredibly successful careers individually and with their teams as youth and in college. After a "rough" start to their youth careers, and a few position changes, they settled into play goalkeeper (Monica) and center back (Val) and became key payers in winning Wisconsin's only youth national championship in 2011 as Under-18s. In the process, both were named to the National Championships "First Eleven" as part of the best eleven players at the event.
The sisters went on to college together to Loyola University in Chicago, where they both continued to pile up awards, including:
Both finished their collegiate eligibility after the Fall 2014 season, and share their thoughts about youth and college soccer!
How would you describe your club experience?
Monica: For me - unforgettable. At one point in my career our team lost the Wisconsin State Cup two out of three years, and two years later we won a national championship. In these two years I went from never playing a game as a field player to being the starting goalkeeper in the national championship game. It was the hardest thing I have ever done, but all the hard work and the memories that were made were so worth it in the end.
Val: At first when I was U13, I was a little bit scared and intimidated by all the girls that came to tryouts and practice. But as I got older, I realized that there was nothing to be scared about. All of the people that you have the chance to play with have the same goal in mind, they love to play soccer, they want to improve as a player, and they want to play in an intense but fun environment. In my U17 and U18 years as a youth player, I developed the most when I switched positions from forward to center back. Even though I was playing a completely different position, I was excited to make the change to help my team on defense and improve my skills even more as a soccer player. I ended up being recruited as a center defender when looking for colleges, even though I only played the position for two years.
How did you pick Loyola University as the place you wanted to go to school and play soccer?
Monica: After visiting the school I fell in love with the campus and the city. I loved that it was right on the shore of Lake Michigan and that it was only a few miles north of downtown Chicago. I wanted to come in and make an impact right away as a freshman and Loyola gave me the chance to do that. Loyola also gave me the opportunity to continue my soccer career on the same team as my sister, who I had been playing with my entire life.
Val: When I was looking for a college, I wanted to choose a school that had great academics and Loyola University Chicago has consistently been a highly ranked university. The campus is beautiful and right next to lake Michigan. I loved the idea of going to college 10 minutes outside of a city where there is an unlimited amount of activities to do (shopping, museums, plays, etc.). When deciding where to play college soccer, I knew I wanted to play for a team where I would be able to make an impact right away coming in as a freshman.
How did the training and competition you had as a youth player help prepare you for collegiate success?
Monica: Every day the environment as a youth player was competitive and intense. We may not have been the best team at possessing the ball or the fastest or the strongest, but we would be one of the hardest working teams. Every time I stepped on the soccer field, I brought that same intensity and hard work. Playing with this intensity not only made myself a better player but helped to make the players around me better as well.
Val: Training at the highest level of soccer and playing with the best players in the state helped me improve my skill tremendously as a youth player. Playing in an intense and fast environment improved my touches and my mentality. I felt very prepared coming into college after playing at such a high level of soccer in club. By traveling all over the country and having the chance to play the best teams as a youth player, I was more than ready to play in my first collegiate soccer game my freshman year.
What are your favorite memories of playing in club?
Monica: The summer before my freshman year of college we were competing in the Midwest Regional Championships (before everyone went solely to the ECNL). We knew that winning would not only give us a chance to compete in the national championships but also a few extra weeks to be able to train together. It was those few extra weeks together before going on to our college careers that I will always cherish, as well as the memories we made that year at the national championships in Phoenix.
Val: Some of my favorite memories from playing in club were team ice baths, pouring the water jug over our coaches head when we were U18 champions, dressing up for Halloween practices ... so many!
How do you think your soccer career (youth and college) helped you most?
Monica: It has taught me to always give your best in everything you do. The more hard work and commitment you put into something, the more you will get out of it in the end. If you do something halfway, you are likely to have to do it all over again, so give everything you have the first time around.
Val: Since I have been playing soccer, I realized this sport is not always about winning but most importantly about the people you get to share your experiences with. I have gained so many memories with teammates that I know I will cherish forever. I think my soccer career has helped me become a better leader, team mate, listener, and friend on and off the field.
What is the best piece of advice you wish someone had given you while you were a youth soccer player?
Monica: There are only so many games left with the teammates you have now. Enjoy every game you play with them and play for each other. The day will come where you will play your last game with that group and all that is left are the memories and relationships with those players.
Val: Never give up. There may be times where you feel like you are having a bad day or you feel like your touches are off, but just relax and refocus. Take a deep breath and concentrate on the game. There will be good and bad days, but the way you respond to the bad days is what makes you the player you are.
When you look at FC Wisconsin Eclipse now, what do you think about?
Monica: I see FC Wisconsin Eclipse as a club that gives every player the best chance to reach their potential. The coaches have experience at some of the highest levels that most clubs dont' have access to or knowledge of, giving players an unlimited amount of tools to improve their game and to play at the next level.
Val: Without the coaches at FC Wisconsin Eclipse that helped me on my journey through youth soccer, I do not think I would be the player I am today. FC Wisconsin Eclipse focuses on developing youth athletes while also creating an intense and fun environment to play in. If I could go back to playing club soccer, I would do it again in a heartbeat.