By ANTHONY SPAULDING
Director of Communications
Pope John XXIII Regional High School
SPARTA — Jaime Walton couldn’t have been any happier on Friday.
The Pope John XXIII Regional High School senior midfielder signed her National Letter of Intent to continue her academic and soccer careers at Georgetown University.
But, this signing meant a lot more to her than just being considered a future NCAA Division I student-athlete.
“A few years ago, I took a risk and decided to join soccer,” Walton said. “Before I played soccer, I was kind of an outcast and socially awkward. But, when I started soccer, it was by far the best decision I made in my entire life. I immediately fell in love with the sport. Soccer was the first thing that ever pushed me to my limits and made me work to be my best. It gave me the confidence, determination, and strength to be who I am today and where I am today.”
Unlike most kids in this day in age, Walton got a late start into soccer, as she started career on the pitch when she was around 13 years old. She began with the Wallkill Valley travel team and New Jersey Dynamo club squad.
Then, she joined the New Jersey Stallions Girls Academy, an elite club program based out of Clifton, but she hardly got any playing time at first.
However, Walton didn’t get discouraged by the lack of time on the field. Instead, she turned the experience into a positive.
“When I first joined my club team, I played like five minutes, but I kept pushing myself,” Walton said. “I liked having something to look forward to and trying to reach a goal.”
As Walton continued to work hard and improve her skills, she saw more time on the field. When she came to Pope John as a freshman in 2014, Walton proved she was a quality player from the get-go, earning a starting spot on a team that went 16-5-2, won the NJAC American Division title and reached the Non-Public, North A quarterfinals.
Then as a sophomore, Walton stepped up her play by handing out 14 assists and scoring four goals while helping the Lions get back to the sectional quarterfinals during their 12-7-1 campaign.
Then as a junior, Walton became the Lions’ top scoring threat, as she registered 17 goals and had eight assists in 19 games. Walton, who scored multiple goals in eight different games that season, earned All-New Jersey Herald First Team honors for her play.
Throughout her junior season, Walton gained a ton of interest from D-I schools, namely Georgetown, Harvard, Boston University, Cincinnati, St. John's, Hofstra, Temple, Old Dominion, Duquesne, Monmouth, UNC-Wilmington, Iona, Rutgers and Princeton.
She managed to narrow the field down to Georgetown and Harvard, and then decided to verbally commit to the Hoyas after the season. Walton felt Georgetown had everything she wanted in a school.
“I chose to attend Georgetown because of its elite athletics and academics,” Walton said. “The campus, location, and environment at Georgetown are amazing, and I know I will be challenged on and off the field. With the competitive atmosphere, I know I will grow as a player, student, and person.”
When senior year came this year, Walton went out with another terrific season, scoring 14 goals and handing out four assists while leading Pope John to fourth-straight Non-Public, North A quarterfinal appearance. Walton, who also earned a second consecutive All-Herald First Team honor, did so well this year and throughout her career that Pope John head coach Ryan Barbulescu considered her to be among the top five players he has ever coached, along with former standouts Kaley Guthrie, Emily Carrollo, Rebeca Frisk and Maddy Flanagan.
“I said that at the banquet at the end of the season that she was up there,” Barbulescu said. “She was great teammate all four years. She didn’t care about her stats or any of that. She played her heart out for the team.”
By immersing herself into soccer both at Pope John and at the club level and signing her NLI, Walton now has a place to call home for the next four years.
“It feels great to officially commit to Georgetown,” Walton said. “It feels like just yesterday I was pulling all-nighters to email 50-plus college coaches. I couldn't have gotten where I am today without the support from my family, teammates, friends, coaches, and staff at Pope John. I worked hard to get to here and I am determined to working even harder in the next chapter of my life.”
However, this chapter would not have started without taking that risk to play soccer.
“The reward (for doing that) was huge,” Walton said. “Even though I started at the bottom, I still got here.”