Soccer has always been in Daria Bakhtiari’s ’22 DNA. From her father being a professional soccer player to starting the sport when she was only two, it seems like everywhere she went, soccer went with her. And with impressive records too: Bakhtiari was selected for the 2021 United Soccer Coaches All-Region II team, as well as the All-University Athletic Association (UAA) team in both 2018 and 2021. Moreover, she was also an All-UAA honorable mention in 2019.
“I have been playing soccer since I was two. My dad was a professional player, so he got my entire family to play soccer,” Bakhtiari told The Brandeis Hoot in a Zoom interview. “Ever since I was little, I fell in love with the sport, and with each year I got more and more competitive.”
However, Bakhtiari not only wanted to play soccer, but also wanted to go into the medical field as well. “Choosing a college was a really difficult process for me. I knew I wanted to play, but at the same time I also wanted to go on the pre-med track.” This meant that playing D1 would be essentially impossible due to the time commitment required for the sport. “At the end of the day, academics would be my number one priority,” Bakhtiari emphasized.
Bakhtiari worries soon ended as she heard about the UAA league. “I started looking at schools that were in the UAAs, and found that Brandeis had a great record in the league as well as a good pre med program.” She does admit that she looked into rivals as well, but Brandeis ultimately won her over.
In terms of her career journey, Bakhtiari commented that she was “terrified, and did not know what to expect since I was playing with some of the best players in the country.” An additional concern for her was that “the level of competitiveness was so high [she] was not sure how much time on the field she would actually get.” Ultimately, Bakhtiari was able to “go back to her roots” and played all the way through the season. During her first year Bakhtiari started all 21 games that she played, scoring two points with one made goal. Despite her impressive performance for a first-year, Bakhtiari said that although she had a great freshman year, she “did not have as large of an impact as [she] wanted to.”
“For my sophomore year, I came in ready to play,” Bakhtiari told The Hoot. Overall, she said she had a great season despite numerous injuries. She started all 17 games she played, earning 11 points with five goals scored. This was the season that the soccer team made the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament, though they did not make it too deep within the tournament. “I finally felt like I was truly a part of the team and making a difference.”
Junior year was difficult for Bakhtiari. After undergoing a hip surgery, she felt a lot of pressure on herself to “prove to myself that I did not change because of the injury.” She started 17 out of 18 games she played, earning 15 points with six goals scored. Overall, “we had a great team but a young team, so we did not make it to NCAA as this was largely a rebuilding year,” Bakhtiari elaborated.
Her senior year took place after a year break following her junior year. “I was extremely excited coming off of COVID, I haven’t played competitively in a long time.” Bakhtiari elaborated that she recently came back from study abroad over the summer, however because of the coronavirus pandemic, she was unable to play with the team and did not have competitive soccer in her life.
“I was nervous going into senior year, I was not sure how well I was doing,” because of the long break, “but I knew I was ready to play again.” Bakhtiari’s season did not go as well as she hoped. She suffered multiple injuries. “I was a fifth year, and my body was mad at me,” Bakhtiari added, though she still played through a lot of injuries.
Additionally, the season has a rocky start because of how young the team itself was. A lot of my teammates have “never played at the UAA level,” however, when it came to actually playing in the UAAs, they “ended up beating our rivals UChicago and Emory.” That was particularly exciting for Bakhtiari, as she had never beaten Emory before so “it was a huge win.”
For her final year, she started all 19 games she played, earning 14 points with seven goals scored. Overall, Bakhtiari said that the team had a great season, though she wishes they could have gotten further in the NCAA competition.
On the team itself, Bakhtiari explains that she has a big role: “I am the oldest, the only fifth year as well as a two year captain.” She has “more experience, [has] been to more tournaments,” although the team called her “old” they “relied on me to keep them going throughout the whole season” she said. “I was the one keeping everyone on track… the one who said this isn’t a joke, that we have to go far … I brought my experience to the team and had the respect of a lot of my teammates,” Bakhtiari added. However, this all came with pressure on her, as Bakhtiari tried her best to be there for the team; “if I had a bad game I took it personally… I didn’t want to play badly for the team,” explained Bakhtiari.
Despite her confidence and impressive performance, when it comes to times right before the game, Bakhtiari pre-game ritual is the lack of one. “I try not to think about the game… I have never been someone to put on headphones and focus.” On the contrary, she tries to do “anything to keep my mind off the game,” as if she is “not nervous, [she] can play,” Bakhtiari explained. When she is on the field, Bakhtiari says that she zones out, and is focusing entirely on the game; “I don’t remember anything of what I did when I come off the field,” she laughed.
“Making friendships that are lasting forever” was Bakhtiari’s favorite part of being on the team, along with winning, of course. “This year having the seniors [Class of 2022] really helped me incorporate myself into the team.” Being able to talk to her teammates every day was a major help with getting through the season.
Along with that,“the amount of wins we had, and that we beat Emory—that was massive.” The team also beat rival UChicago, and Bakhtiari scored in that game; “ watching it gives me goosebumps,” she added.
Most of all, Bakhtiari, who has now graduated, misses the team atmosphere. “I haven’t seen them in a while, which is sad, because I have been so busy… I miss seeing them everyday, they helped me get through the last season.”
Following her graduation in December of 2021, Bakhtiari has been studying for the MCAT, which she is taking in May and working as a medical assistant. After that she will “hopefully go to Med School in 2023.” But before that, Bakhtiari has another surgery ahead of her, the downside of a long successful soccer career.
“I am currently in the middle of knee surgeries so I haven’t touched a ball since November,” said Bakhtiari. Right now, she is focusing on her life outside of soccer, which is “not an easy thing to do.” However, it was “good to step back and see that I would be okay without it and focus on my life and my future,” Bakhtiari added.
When asked what advice she would give herself four years ago, Bakhtiari said she wishes she had asked for help earlier. “I thought I could do everything on my own. I thought that everything was falling into place. I wanted to do so well in soccer so I put academics on the back burner.” However she now sees that she needed to balance those things. “I wish I told myself that it was okay to go to office hours, TAs, professors, coaches… I did so much better when I started doing that.
This is exactly the advice she would give to her younger teammates, adding that when you ask for help, “you’re helping the entire team and yourself.”