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PRESS PHOTO COURTESY OF BUCKNELL ATHLETICSRylee Donaldson played in all of her team’s 18 games during her freshman season in Lewisburg. Copyright - MHAGEMEIER PRESS PHOTO COURTESY OF BUCKNELL ATHLETICSRylee Donaldson played in all of her team’s 18 games during her freshman season in Lewisburg. Copyright - MHAGEMEIER

Donaldson makes impact at Bucknell

Wednesday, November 27, 2019 by TODD KRESS in Sports

Rylee Donaldson has endured her fair share of injuries over her soccer career. Just a little over a year ago during her final season at Salisbury, Donaldson played with a knee injury that required a procedure to repair her patellar tendon after the season. She also missed half of her sophomore campaign with a broken wrist.

Despite the injury-riddled past, Donaldson had her healthiest season in quite some time in 2019 for Bucknell. And the freshman forward had a successful inaugural collegiate season, playing in every one of the Bison’s 18 games and tallying a goal and an assist.

“I always somehow sustain a pretty intense injury, or I’m working myself back from injury,” Donaldson said. “My senior season (in high school) I was playing on a bad knee and waiting to get a procedure done. This past summer I worked really hard to work out and get myself strong and healthy so I wouldn’t have to deal with anything like that this fall.”

The procedure sidelined her for three months. But once she returned to the field, she slowly worked her way back to 100 percent. And the coaches at Bucknell took notice. As a freshman, she was one of six players to play in all 18 games. Only two other freshmen achieved that feat.

“I had some high expectations of myself going into the season,” Donaldson said. “I wanted to play, obviously that was a goal. I ended up playing in all of the games this season, and even started in a few of them.”

Donaldson was one of nine different goal scorers this past fall season for the Bison, who scored just 14 goals in 2019. She and the Bison know they’ll have to capitalize more often on their opportunities in the future to improve on last season’s 5-11-2 record.

The good news is eight of those nine goal scorers return in 2020. The only graduate is senior Gabby Bair, who led Bucknell with three goals and three assists. Teammates Abby Gearhart (three goals, one assist), Annabelle Heisel (one goal, one assist) and Petie Nassetta (one goal) all return as part of a talented freshmen class that left an impression this past season.

And for Donaldson, she’s enjoying the competition she practices with on a daily basis.

“I think in high school and club it was easy to be one of the top players and kind of stand out among the league,” Donaldson said. “But when you get to college and you are playing Division I soccer, everyone is that top dog. It brings a different competitive aspect to the table, especially this year with me looking to play a lot.

“It was an adjustment that I really liked. I knew coming in that it was going to be that way. I enjoyed it because it made me want to work harder, get to the level of the people around me, and prove myself as one of those people that should be on the field.”

And Donaldson did more than prove herself on the field. She lined up in a new three-forward rotation for the first time after playing much of her high school career with two forwards. It allowed her, and the other Bison attackers, more room to operate.

“We play three forwards, which is something that was kind of new to me,” Donaldson said. “I never played with that formation before. It’s interesting because then we don’t play with outside midfielders, so it covers a little bit more area than what I’m used to. It also gives us more offensive opportunities having two other people in the attacking front. I personally really like the formation.”

Donaldson’s breakthrough came against Lehigh, back near her hometown, on October 2. The Bison forward scored off a free kick that put Bucknell up early in the second half. Lehigh, however, scored three unanswered goals to end the game with a victory.

“There were a lot of opportunities that I missed by a centimeter or it would hit the post,” said Donaldson, who had five shots on goal. “I had some unlucky chances. It was really great to see it go into the back of the net, especially with the game being at Lehigh. I had a lot of people there from my hometown.”

Donaldson is one of 10 freshmen that helped the Bison go 3-4-2 in Patriot League play. It was Bucknell’s first losing season in conference play since 2011. But the team will look to take a step forward next season with that talented group returning to take on what expects to be a bigger role.