Danielle Fotopoulos, head coach of the Eckerd College Women’s Soccer team, received so many emails from then–first-year student Kaia Senecal she felt compelled to at least watch the enthusiastic student-athlete work out.
“She was very consistent in emailing; she even told us she was coming to Eckerd anyway … and then we were able to see her play off campus,” Fotopoulos says. “As soon as we saw her, we were, like, ‘Wow you’re already at Eckerd, and we’d love to have you.’”
Kaia had picked Eckerd College, even though she hadn’t received an offer to play for Fotopoulos, because she had always dreamed of playing at a small school and knew Eckerd was the right fit for her. She was confident that if she got to campus, she’d make the team. Her secret weapon? STREB.
At age 4, Kaia, now a sophomore human development student, began fostering her multiple talents in Brooklyn, New York.
Growing up in the City of Dreams, she was involved in many things, but only a few lasted throughout her teen years. In high school, Kaia was running track, playing soccer and, after following in her brother’s footsteps at age 4, she also continued to do STREB.
Unlike most high school extracurricular organizations, STREB is an “extreme action” company and activity that combines technical skill with entertainment. “It was dance and also gymnastics … but we did it on different apparatuses,” Kaia explains. “We’d make dances on something that’s spinning or on bouncy balls. That’s kind of where a ‘circusy’ part comes in when it’s about defeating gravity, falling from really high heights and parkour type things.”
Starting STREB at such a young age, Kaia initially was learning how to roll, properly fall from heights and hold her body to avoid injury, and she would run around obstacles learning how to balance. As her skills advanced through the years, she learned how to do full twists, front tucks, roundoff back handsprings, dances and flips off of trampolines; all of this and more to create “pop action” sequences to be used in performances. This unique sport became more than an extracurricular to Kaia. She says, “I think it was a place where I [could] just let loose and run and climb and that kind of stuff. It was just a fun place to get all my energy out after school and enjoy myself without restrictions.”
She gained a multitude of skills doing STREB, and some have proven to be beneficial to her other passion—soccer.
Kaia knew she wanted to play soccer in college, and the hopes of joining the team, plus the small-school feel, ultimately led her to Eckerd. Making the team was no easy task. She spent months training and persevering. “I had to be on the soccer team, no other choice!” she says. She spent the next five months asking to attend practices and clinics while playing on her own, not letting even COVID barriers get in her way.
Eckerd Women’s Soccer is delighted to have Kaia on the team, according to Fotopoulos. “Her chemistry with our team, she’s just smiles all around. She’s completely awesome.”
In her first full season playing collegiate soccer, Kaia contributed two goals and one assist to the Tritons’ efforts and was Eckerd’s first Women’s Soccer player named Sunshine State Conference Player of the Week since 2017.
A smiling Kaia admits, “Honestly, I wish we had more practices. I kinda wish we could play every day!”
Equally a dedicated student, she enjoys doing homework at the soccer field from time to time. “No one is there usually, so I do some on the bench after I practice,” she says.
As a proud hammock owner who enjoys her Intro to Human Development class and frequenting the Triton’s Pub for black bean burgers, she has settled in perfectly at Eckerd.