Longtime, former Godwin soccer coach Rob White remembers a practice in the mid-90’s that revealed all he needed to know about his goalkeeper. As the starters dominated possession, White looked to the opposite end. Ali Wolff, now Ali Toole, was experiencing little activity and had set up cones to drive herself through a footwork drill, using every minute she could find to improve. White had rarely seen an athlete so willing to do the unrequired work that often sets apart elite athletes.
Almost 20 years later, Toole has again set herself apart as part of the 2013 class of the Mills Godwin Athletic Hall of Fame and first inductee to both play and coach at Godwin. See 2013 Hall of Fame Inductees.
White credits Toole with helping bring a “level of authenticity” to Godwin soccer through her skill, drive, and leadership. Toole was a four-year varsity starter in both basketball and soccer and gained first-team all-district and all-region honors her last three years. She was also named the Central Region Player of the Year and first team all-state her senior year.
AB Robbins Almy (GHS 2000), a GHS Hall of Fame inductee last year and a Godwin teammate, acknowledged Toole’s considerable influence on their teammates.
“Ali has these intangible skills that are so hard to describe– but would lend themselves to success in just about any situation. The best way for me to describe it is that she is magnetic. People are drawn to her, want to follow her, and want to know her. This gift comes with a huge amount of weight and responsibility, as leaders can lead people in both good and bad ways, but I think she chooses to use to make everyone around her better.”
Toole went on to help the University of Maryland to four straight NCAA tournament appearances. She served as team captain for her final three years and was selected second team all ACC her senior year.
Toole traces her athletic accomplishments to simply wanting to emulate her grandfather, who played football at Notre Dame.
“I knew by the third grade that I wanted to play soccer in college. I really didn’t care about much else. Playing competitively made me feel completely alive. I was completely aware through all of my senses and my body was my machine. The nerves gave me super hero like abilities. There was always so much energy wrapped in the nerves that when I completely harnessed the feeling I felt extremely powerful, unstoppable, and supernatural,” said Toole.
After a brief college coaching career and marriage to Pete Toole, the Tooles returned to Richmond where Ali became a Godwin assistant and physical education teacher.
By Toole’s return, Godwin had become a region soccer powerhouse with regular state tournament appearances and two state semifinal appearances. White, after many years as head coach in both soccer and girls’ basketball, wished to spend more time with his family. He said that Toole’s presence made his coaching retirement in 2007 much easier, knowing he was leaving the program in good hands.
Toole’s first season as head coach turned out to be a magical one. Though probably not Godwin’s most talented team, the Eagles, known as “The Drama Queens” for their habit of coming from behind and late-game heroics, advanced all the way to the state finals, losing 2-1 to a very talented Chantilly High School team.
“The team came together at the right time, and we surprised a lot of people,” said Toole whose teams since have made the regional tournament several times.
Asked to compare playing and coaching, Toole said, “In coaching I have had to learn how to quiet my nerves so that I can truly think. The highs that come from winning are just as great as when I was playing, but I find more joy and inspiration through my players’ and team accomplishments. The pride I feel from their performance is first class, and the defeat I feel when we lose is heart wrenching.” When we win I can’t sleep because I am so excited, and when we lose, I can’t sleep because I am thinking of all the things I could have changed that would possibly have given us the edge and changed the result. Coaching is so gratifying.”
As for her own children, Jackson and Annie, Toole says that she just wants them to be happy and find their true passion, whether it is sports or not.
“Sports can build strong foundations for what they need to be successful, and I hope they participate in all types of sports,” said Toole.
Upon learning that she had been named to the Godwin Hall of Fame, Toole, who is quick to credit White’s mentorship, said that she was almost speechless.
“I am really honored and excited. Godwin has given me so much, and it is truly a special place,” she said.