Neither Ian Walls nor Aline Check-Guzman were planning on continuing their soccer careers at the collegiate level. Both Indian River High School seniors had other plans in mind, with Walls focused on a career in physics and Check-Guzman planning on starting off as a psychology major and one day working for the FBI.
However, it doesn’t take a federal investigator to crack the case of why players from the seasoned state-championship Indian River soccer program are in such high demand with the NCAA. A slew of signings in recent years can be largely attributed to the success, from the ground up, of the program — where both Walls and Check-Guzman began their careers.
Garnering collegiate attention during their senior campaigns, both players eventually decided that the sport they started playing might just help get them where they’re aiming to go, with Walls headed to Moravian College in Pennsylvania and Check-Guzman staying in-state and attending Wesley College.
“My excuse was I’ve been playing since I was 4 — it’s time to move on and try new things. Then I realized that … I’ve been playing since I was 4, and it’s something I can do in college,” Walls explained. “Hopefully, it will open doors for academic reasons as well.”
“I actually wasn’t planning to play at the next level — I just wanted to focus on my education and my career. I love the game, but I just wasn’t really sure,” said Check-Guzman. “Just playing with the team here at IR, it really just motivated me to play soccer at the next level.”
An All-State selection in 2015, Walls is coming off a state-championship season between the pipes after being called upon as a starter as a junior and following an impressive pedigree of goalkeepers at Indian River.
He was particularly instrumental in the Indians’ Henlopen Conference championship win over Cape Henlopen this past November, racking up an unprecedented 13 saves and keeping the Vikings off the board in the 1-0 victory.
“I think Moravian is very fortunate to have him coming their way,” said IR head coach Steve Kilby. “He’s a player that we’re gonna miss — very technically sound. Great reactions and instincts. I think that’s gonna carry over to the next level, because you either have those attributes or you don’t.”
Currently in the middle of her own senior season, Check-Guzman has seen similar success throughout her career. The midfielder was an All-State selection in 2014 and All-Conference selection last season during the girls’ first-ever state championship appearance.
After falling to Caravel 3-1 in that game, Check-Guzman and the rest of the Indians will be aiming for redemption as they look poised for another state title run this spring, before she takes her skills to Wesley.
“Aline has grown so much in the last four years,” said Kilby. “She’s always had a very technical base of skills — her distribution and her vision on the field are amazing. Her skill set is going to translate well to Wesley.”
While Kilby said he is confident in both players’ abilities at the next level, he said that, ultimately, the goal of the program is to develop student-athletes. That’s exactly the practice that Walls and Check-Guzman plan on continuing, with both players noting how influential soccer has been in realizing and advancing their life goals.
“I just feel like they’re family to me now,” Check-Guzman said of the soccer team. “Since my freshman year, [Kilby’s] always been a little bit tough on me — he’s always pushed me to step up to the next level of my game. He’s been there, and he’s helped me a lot.”
“It’s been very fortunate that I’ve had a lot of great coaches growing up. I had Coach Duncan [Smith] with the express, and then I moved on to Coach Kilby with the high school team,” added Walls. “I don’t know if I’ll continue to play it after college, but it’ll certainly be a part of my life. I’ll certainly take what I’ve learned playing soccer and apply it to my work, family and the rest of what I decide to do.”