Trojan midfielder Olufolasade “Sade” Adamolekun has already faced the pressure of international soccer as a member of the Jamaican Women’s National Team, but 2020 has brought challenges the talented sophomore could never have foreseen.
“Right now, nothing is ensured,” Adamolekun said. “[The women’s soccer team] doesn’t know for sure if we are going to have a spring season … [I’m] just gonna pretend that we are so I make sure that I’m prepared for when it does happen.”
In many respects, Adamolekun was more prepared for the turmoil and uncertainty omnipresent in college sports this year than most.
Born into a hyper-successful, athletic family, her father grew up playing soccer in Nigeria, her mother ran track at the University of Texas at Austin and her brother has followed a stellar soccer career at the University of North Carolina with professional stints in Austria, Portugal and currently the United Soccer League.
If you’re quick to think that athletic skill is in her DNA, she’d be the first to agree.
“I feel like it’s our family thing. We love sports, and growing up having a sibling who also plays the same sport as me definitely helped,” Sade said. “We were able to push each other.”
With such a prolific family background, it’s little surprise that Sade has already set and achieved a number of lofty goals for herself.
During a stellar two-year career at Fleming High School in Clay County, Fla., Adamolekun established herself as the team’s top goal scorer on her way to a 2017 All-Conference first team nomination.
From there, she fell in love with USC and committed to join the team for the 2019 season. There was only one thing she had to do first: compete for Jamaica at the 2019 World Cup in France.
But how did the United States-raised daughter of a Nigerian father and a Jamaican mother choose which country to compete for? According to her, it was less of a choice and more a matter of destiny.
“I don’t think you choose the country you play for, the country chooses you,” Adamolekun said. “With the opportunity of [the Jamaican team] asking me to play, I took it and made sure to show them what I was capable of doing.”
Despite competing in the U-15, U-16 and U-17 camps for the United States in high school, Sade’s commitment to Jamaica has had a profound impact on the Adadmolekun family.
“I know it means a lot to my family — especially my mom’s side, as she’s from Jamaica,” Sade said. “So it’s definitely a huge, cool thing.”
If Adamolekun felt any pressure playing for her family and her country, she certainly didn’t let it show on the pitch.
Following successful stops with the U-17 and U-20 Jamaican team in 2017 and 2018, respectively, she made her debut for Jamaica’s full national team in February 2019 against Chile, started against Italy in the World Cup’s group stage and competed at the 2019 Pan American Games.
After such a long and challenging stretch of international soccer, how did Adamolekun transition to the collegiate game? According to Trojan head coach Keidane McAlpine, she took it in stride.
“When she got to SC and got to be with us…. she had missed some key moments for us … but I thought she did an extremely good job of finding her way and taking her moments when she could to join our squad and be productive,” McAlpine said.
For Adamolekun, it was a year of transition and adjustment both on and off the pitch. Adjusting to new classes, a new city and a new team is overwhelming for many players, but Adamolekun took the challenge head on. With the support and encouragement of McAlpine, she earned her minutes and impressed with her fitness level, on-ball skill and work ethic.
Her efforts earned her an appearance on the Pac-12 All-Freshman team and helped USC reach the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament, where the No. 9-seeded Trojans fell 3-2 to No. 2 seed UNC Chapel Hill.
Ever the competitor, Adamolekun remains proud of her accomplishments while intensely focused on improving on last year’s results.
“I was very happy about being able to adjust and jump into [USC’s] style of play,” Adamolekun said. “We weren’t 100% [for the UNC game], and I feel we could’ve won.”
McAlpine echoed her sentiments, hopeful that Adamolekun continues to make the physical, technical and tactical adjustments necessary to take her game to the next level. With a year of experience under her belt, McAlpine “anticipates we’ll start to see the best version of Sade next year and beyond.”
Part of Adamolekun’s growth will come from developing chemistry with her teammates, 11 of whom are in her same 2019 class. Adjusting to her new teammates’ style of play was a major focus during her freshman season, and Adamolekun hopes that groundwork will lead to a successful sophomore campaign amid the obstacles that a coronavirus-influenced season will almost certainly bring.
Isabel Rolley, a sophomore defender who missed the 2019 season due to an ankle injury, has seen firsthand Adamolekun’s efforts to ingratiate herself with her teammates and establish her role as a humble leader by example.
“She’s a positive voice [for the team] … she’s not super vocal, but when she does talk, it’s always positive,” Rolley said. “Her experience in the World Cup is something so rare for someone our age … I can see a lot of the decisions she makes on the field are very mature.”
As for the rest of 2020 and beyond, Adamolekun’s goals remain the same: Put in the work in the (virtual) classroom and in training. Confident in USC’s health and safety protocols in the midst of the pandemic, Sade wants her work and preparation to do the talking.
“I’ve been making sure that I’m ready for everything that comes my way, whether it’s fitness, whether it’s my technical or mental ability, so just preparing in any way possible,” Adamolekun said.
Whether in front of a (likely) fanless McAlister Field or at Jamaica’s next international competition, Adamolekun’s play and future certainly look bright.