A topsy-turvy two years at Iona for Kiri Dale that began with a redshirt and ended with the Palm Beach product becoming one of the mainstays of the team has now culminated in a transfer to Hawaii for the sophomore. We caught up with Kiri to discuss her time at Iona and the new challenge that faces her in Honolulu.
Fresh off a high school career that included a unique quirk, Dale found herself forced to redshirt her opening year due to NCAA academic eligibility issues. A lot of the time, these arise because players don’t have good enough grades, or because they’ve taken the wrong subjects during high school and not fulfilled the governing body’s requirements. Dale’s situation was a little different.
“I redshirted my first year because I was ineligible. I didn’t have the credit points to transfer over because I skipped Grade 10 in Australia, so I had to sit out my first year,” the Mullumbimby-based fullback explained.
Forced to watch her team from the sidelines despite being able to train with them throughout the season, Dale was completely helpless as Iona completed a tough 3-16 season to finish near the bottom of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference standings.
“I think it made me work a lot harder for my first season. I could train with the team, but every game I just had to sit on the bench which was really frustrating.”
The frustration at being unable to play manifests in different ways in different players. Some become withdrawn, others let it get the best of them and it results in anger, but for some, it fuels the drive to succeed. Dale certainly falls into the latter category, seeing her redshirt year as more of a free year to improve and jell with her team before getting on the pitch in her second season.
“So I just worked really hard and it gave me a bit of advantage because I got to know all the players. It just gave me more time to work out the teams we were going to play and made me more hungry to play in my first season the following year.”
That drive and hunger from the former Iona fullback was rewarded with an outstanding season for the Westchester-based college. Starting in 17 of Iona’s 18 games, Dale played eight complete games, including the last seven of the season and chipped in a single assist to be one of the Gaels’ standouts in an otherwise disappointing 2-14-2 season.
Having well and truly settled into things at Iona, from the outside it certainly appeared to be a surprising move when word came through that Dale had transferred to Hawaii. A much bigger school, in a much more competitive conference, and in a part of the United States that could not be more different than New York, Hawaii represented just about everything that Iona didn’t. From a footballing standpoint though, it was always about the level of play for Dale.
“I definitely always want to push myself. I did love Iona, school-wise, and the friends I made there. But soccer-wise, I just wanted to push myself and challenge myself.
“I think after my first season, I did pretty well. Training-wise, I wanted to be in a more challenging environment, and that’s kind of what started me looking into different schools and transferring being an option.”
With her heart set on transferring, Dale quickly went about finding a new college for her remaining seasons in the US. With a highlight video of her play in hand, Dale sold herself to a number of colleges all over the country in a number of high-major and stronger mid-major conferences.
“I looked all over, to be honest, because it’s pretty hard to transfer as an international student needing a full scholarship, so honestly I messaged over 100 schools. I spent weeks emailing D-1 colleges all over America. I just waited for people to respond.”
Responses came flooding in, with San Diego, Michigan State, and Denver amongst a number of colleges that showed interest in the Australian fullback. In the end, there were a number of factors that led Dale to the decision that Hawaii was the place for her.
“Hawaii is just closer to home for me, for one. The coach was really nice, and she had a similar coaching style to my coach at home in Australia, (former Palm Beach coach) Gary French. They’re actually friends, which is actually where I got the connection from. She has a very similar coaching style to him, which I was very interested in, and also they have very good facilities, they care a lot about their players and they put a lot of time and effort into making their players better.
“Every school that I spoke to, whether it was San Diego or Michigan State, as soon as I mentioned that I was talking to Hawaii as well, they immediately said, ‘you’d love it there if you went there.’ I’m so grateful for the opportunity I’ve been given. It’s very similar to the Gold Coast, and whilst I was in New York, it was the exact opposite. I wasn’t exactly a huge fan of playing in the snow, so the location was a huge reason why I chose Hawaii.”
Although there is clearly an excitement about making the move to Hawaii, Dale acknowledges that there is a risk involved with making the jump from a smaller college to a more competitive environment. However, hard work is something the Mullumbimby native has never shied away from, and Dale is absolutely up for the challenge.
“While I was starting and playing every game at Iona, Hawaii is a big step-up. They’re on totally different ends of the spectrum, and their program is totally different with totally different players,” Dale explained. “It’s going to be a huge step-up for me but I’ve worked really hard and I’m prepared to put in the work at Hawaii.
“It might not be like Iona; I might not start every single game, but I’m definitely going to work up towards that.”
Although getting anywhere in college soccer takes a lot of work, there is potential for Dale to slot in at her preferred position, marauding through midfield in addition to her defensive role, with seniors having filled the spot last season.
“I was talking to the coach about my style of playing. She obviously saw it in my video, and it was exactly what she was looking for, and they needed someone for that position. I think with both those things in mind, I’m hoping to come in and work hard and slot into that position.
“I was lucky that the position opened up with a few of their seniors leaving. Obviously I’ll still be up against the incoming freshmen and other people on the team who are fighting for that position, but with the experience I have as a transfer, hopefully I’ll be able to play.”
With her eyes wide open to the risks and challenges involved with the step-up to a higher calibre of college, Dale is more than ready to put in the work that is required to make the most of her remaining three years in the US. It will certainly be interesting to see her development as she adapts to her new environment.