Noah Fleischman, Sports Editor
At the beginning of this season, it looked as if Rea Sanger would never again get a chance to lace up her cleats and set foot on the field at Sports Backers Stadium. That changed on Sunday when she was in the starting lineup for the first time in her career.
Sanger, a senior midfielder, was diagnosed with a brain tumor, ending her soccer career at VCU before her final season began.
Sunday was senior day for the Rams when Sanger took the field for the first time this season. The kickoff was passed to her before she sent it out of bounds at midfield, where her substitute was waiting.
When her name was announced and junior midfielder Lyndsey Gutzmer entered the game for Sanger, the entire team converged at midfield and embraced her. Tears were shed by many, but Sanger wore a smile as she exited the soccer field for the final time.
“Getting her to go out and take the kickoff her senior night, and getting to see her so happy and excited for it, I think the whole team just lost it,” senior defender Sarah Gibson said. “I’m not a huge crier, and I was bawling like a baby.”
Even though she was not able to play this season, Sanger still was around the team throughout the year. When she was there, her presence was inspiring.
“I would say every day she showed up, [she] reminded us that we can show up too,” Gibson said. “There were a lot of tough moments, but there was never a day where someone was like ‘Nah, I can’t show up today.’”
Not only did Sanger bring inspiration to the team, but she was also a source of hope after a slow start to conference play, Gibson said.
Gibson, who was Sanger’s roommate during their freshman year, said Sanger is determined in every area of her life.
“Whatever she wants to do she wants to set her mind to doing it,” Gibson said. “She had everything happen and she said, ‘No, I’m going to finish my degree.’ So, she came back and finished her degree.”
Sophomore midfielder Emily Charen, Sanger’s roommate this year, said she dedicated this season for Sanger, who lost the opportunity to play every day because of the brain tumor.
“Off the field, life is going to happen. But on the field, we’re here together, and we’re doing it for each other,” Gibson said.
Charen said Sanger has always been a strong person, on and off the field, even before the diagnosis.
“Even before this happened, Rea’s just always been someone with a strong mind, strong will, both on and off the field,” Charen said. “She has been just such a strong person and always there for other people, even in such a hard time in her own life.”
Charen said seeing Sanger return to the field for the final time Sunday was the greatest moment she’s witnessed, not only with Sanger but the entire team.
“I don’t think anything will be able to beat that just because she’s such an exceptional human being, and her having the opportunity to play one last time was so incredible to watch,” Charen said. “It just motivates me even more.”