Ryan Hill, a Cornell men’s soccer junior transfer from Haverford College, was doing all he could for an opportunity, a chance, a moment to break through.
Heading into a match against the then-nationally-ranked No. 11 Syracuse, injuries and different lineup shifts created a spot for a new face to travel with the team.
It was Hill’s chance.
“To that point, I had been putting in my work,” Hill said. And it was beginning to be noticed.
When looking down the bench in need of a substitute during the Syracuse game, Cornell men’s soccer head coach John Smith thought, “whom do I trust?” and “who’s been doing the right stuff in training?” Hill perfectly fit this description. His work and patience had paid off.
Smith elected to sub Hill in for Vardhin Manoj 25 minutes into the match. With things ending tied after regular time, and after he settled into the game, Hill received a through ball from freshman teammate Tyler Bagley in the overtime period, setting him up 1-on-1 with Syracuse goalie Hendrik Hilpert, whose legs he sent the game-winning goal straight through,
In retrospect, Hill described this situation and playing in his debut as similar to “just another soccer game.” This confidence and comfort eventually translated into his first goal of the season to end the Red’s 16-year drought against the Orange.
“I was sweating bullets,” Hill said when describing what it felt like to debut for the Red against such a high-profile team. “The atmosphere at Syracuse is just absolutely incredible,” adding how he had imagined playing in a game like this “a thousand times over.”
Since the Syracuse game, Hill has been “reaping the rewards,” in Smith’s words, thanks to his patience and hard work. His three goals this season have come in wins against Colgate, Brown and Syracuse — teams that the Red downed by only one goal.
Hill’s circuitous journey to success at Cornell is certainly not similar to that of a typical, highly-touted recruit. The junior attended Mercer Island High School near Seattle, where he broke the record for overall goals scored with 56. With a dream to one day play soccer at Cornell, Hill began his collegiate career at Haverford College in Pennsylvania.
After two seasons at Haverford, Hill sort of “fell on our doorstep,” as Smith puts it, when he began to seek out Cornell as a transfer option. Luckily, Smith’s number one goal in recruiting is trying to attract “good human beings,” a description Hill certainly embodies.
Once fully transferred, Hill jumped right into spring practices.
“Based on the first couple of practices,” Hill said, “it immediately struck me as a group with a lot of potential.” At the time, this group was filled with what was described by Hill as a “strong backbone” and a group of “extremely gutsy guys.”
After a long spring of work as a new member of the Red, Hill was not selected to travel with the team to Dallas for their preseason trip. That did not phase him.
“He never came with a different mentality to training,” Smith said. “He was always positive.”
Little did Hill know, this trait would soon pay dividends.
With virtually no clear path to consistent playing time, Hill developed a “why not?” mentality. Why not treat practice as an opportunity to get better each day? Why not go as hard as he can and make mistakes while learning if he is out of the mix?
“If I’m not playing, I want to get as good as I can each practice,” Hill said. Rather than “over-analyzing every touch on the ball,” Hill developed a mentality to practice like no coaches or evaluators were watching.
Smith praises Hill for this attitude because he realizes that it is hard for players to get past the overarching question of “is it all worth it?”
“When you enter a very competitive atmosphere, you lose some of that free spirit on the field,” Hill said. By bringing some of this “free spirit” back, rather playing with the mindset that “I’m not as good with my weak foot, so I’m not going to use it,” Hill began to do something that many others cannot.
To Hill, it did not matter if he was fatigued from working out while going into practice, or if he was not doing the exact right things to impress in practice. He was still getting better.
“He was one of those guys who didn’t feel sorry for himself when he wasn’t getting in the mix,” Smith said. “He wanted to prove himself, and he kept on doing that,” which ultimately led to the opportunity of a lifetime against Syracuse.
Smith has said that even with some incredible feats, “if you are in the mix one second, you can’t really take your foot off the gas.” However, Smith does not see this happening with Hill anytime soon.
“He’s an energy giver, not an energy taker,” Smith said about Hill’s presence on the team. As a player who goes about his business quietly, Hill has been described as a player who is inclined to show up on “the uglier days” to get his work in.
Those uglier days are what has gotten Hill to his current spot, making his days on the bench a distant memory. Regardless, he’ll keep looking for those chances.