Senior Palaian commits to West Point for soccer


Elias Podber

Senior captain Kaitlin Palaian (right) dribbles down the sideline in the 3-1 victory over Maynard Jackson on March 9 where she scored two of the three goals. Palaian committed to the U.S. Military Academy in February 2019.

Elias podber, Sports Managing Editor

When senior Kaitlin Palaian was first contacted by the assistant coach of the women’s soccer team at the U.S. Military Academy, she was excited but skeptical.

At that point early in her college search, Palaian was looking into multiple schools and didn’t know if “Army was the right place for me.” After halted communication with the school because of an introduced NCAA rule that forced coaches to wait until Sept. 1 of a players’ junior year to reach out, Army, also known as West Point, resumed its pursuit. 

“I really wanted to go to Boston University for the longest time, and that’s where I was putting all my focus at, and then the head coach [of West Point] reached out to me December of my junior year after he saw me in a showcase,” Palaian said. “He texted me that Sunday when we were flying home and was like ‘I really liked you.’ It was the first time I had ever gotten a text from a coach before, normally it was just like an email or a call. And so I was like, ‘Alright, maybe I should look into this school a little more.’”

Eventually, Army invited her to visit in January 2019, and Palaian was sold. Then, on Feb. 2, she called the head coach and accepted his offer.

“They flew us up there for a recruiting visit, and even the morning of the visit, we were like ‘I don’t know, I still don’t know about this whole thing,’” Palaian’s father Gregg Palaian said. “By the time we left, we were more of the opinion of this seems like too good of an opportunity to pass up.” 

On Feb. 5, 2020, Palaian committed to Army for soccer at the APS Signing Day at Therrell High School. However, the process started in January 2018 when the assistant coach saw Palaian playing in the Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) Sanford showcase in Florida.

Palaian knew she wanted to go to West Point when she had the opportunity to spend time with the coaches and players and see what life was like at the service academy.

“Going up to the school, the environment itself was just incredible,” Palaian said. “I mean walking around, everyone has the same goals, the same drive, the same intentions, everyone’s super fit, super athletic, so you can like ask anyone there, ‘Hey! You wanna go on a run with me?’ and they’ll be like, ‘Oh, yea, sure, why not?’ which I really like.”

As a United States service academy, tuition to West Point is free, and comes with a mandatory five-year stint with the U.S. Army as an officer upon graduation. The commitment is sizable, and Palaian was nervous at first.

“Part of it was, ‘oh my gosh, I’m done,’ and then part of it was ‘oh my gosh, look what I got myself into. The next nine years of my life are completely planned out,’” Palaian said. “That was my first reaction.”

Leadership is an important quality that many college coaches look for, and Palaian “was a teammate that you wanted,” according to her club soccer coach and CEO of Concorde Fire Soccer Club Gregg Blasingame.

“She was always upbeat; she was always positive;she always had a smile on her face; she worked hard; she was critical of her own ability and performance,” Blasingame said. “But at the same time, like I said, she was a teammate that everybody would’ve wanted in any sport, on or off the field. She’s just that type of person.”

Palaian drives “about 30 to 45 mins away for practice three to four times a week,” and also has to focus on schoolwork and editor duties on the Southerner, says Jack Palaian. The balance between her student responsibilities and athletic responsibilities has not been easy to maintain.

“I think that she’s always been pretty driven, and the amount of work seems to be between early morning to late at night,” Gregg Palaian said. “Seems to be kind of a regular routine. I work out in the morning, and when I get back early in the morning, she’s usually at the kitchen table doing something, and she is getting home about the time I’m going to bed. There’s a lot of stuff in between there.”

Palaian’s family believes she will fit in well at Army because of her determination, organization and her drive.

“This has been a thing that she’s been working at for years;she’s always wanted to play soccer in college, and the military wasn’t her first thought – actually, she hadn’t thought about it at all before West Point (Army) contacted her,” Palaian’s twin brother Jack Palaian said. “She definitely puts in the overtime to be able to play soccer and keep up her grades and do everything. So, I think West Point would be a great fit for her.”

Players and coaches noticed Palaian’s talent on the soccer field as early as age 4,according to Gregg Palaian. 

“Dave Pitfield was Kaitlin’s soccer coach when she was 4 maybe, and he still jokes about it, but at 4 years old, he said, ‘Kaitlin is going to be able to play Division 1 soccer. Gregg, you are the only one that can screw this up,’” Gregg Palaian said.

Palaian says that there was never a point where she realized that she was going to be able to play Division 1 soccer, but that she instead worked at it and got results.

“It never really hit me; I just kept working towards it,” Palaian said. “I didn’t have like a specific realization; it was just like ‘If I keep doing this, if I keep doing that,’ then it’ll come.”

Blasingame knew Palaian would need both an athletic and academic challenge in college.

“I thought she had all the abilities,” Blasingame said. “I thought she could definitely play D1, no problem, it’s just what school she wanted to attend because obviously she’s a very bright student, also; so, just putting those two together was the only thing we had to worry about.”

A major factor in choosing Army went beyond soccer, as she aims to pursue a career in designing prosthetic limbs.

“They have a great engineering program; I think they have the number one civil engineering program in the country,” Palaian said. “Which then translates to the other engineering programs. I’d probably go into mechanical engineering and then go down the path of biomechanical and biomedical. So, West Point’s a really good place for that.”

Palaian’s wide range of qualities as a result of hard work over the years has put her in a significant position to succeed at Army, says Blasingame.

“West Point is such a great institution and everything else, and obviously it’s truly an honor whoever attends that school,” Blasingame said. “Just the ability to actually attend it is impressive, but to go there as an athlete also is just that much more impressive, and that’s how Kaitlin is; she’s just an impressive individual, both on and off the field, both in and out of the classroom.”