With a minute left on the clock, College of the Canyons soccer team captain Hailey Phipps scored a goal from 16 yards outside the box, lifting the Cougars to a 1-0 win against Moorpark College.
Overcome by emotion, the 19-year-old began to cry.
Just two days earlier, on Oct. 1, 2017 Phipps was at the Route 91 Harvest music festival that turned deadly when a shooter opened fire from a Las Vegas hotel room, killing 58 people and injuring 851. It is the deadliest mass shooting committed by an individual in the U.S.
“That night I saw a lot of things I hope no one else ever has to see,” said Phipps, who spent many harrowing hours unsure of her family’s whereabouts after fleeing to safety with a friend. She wouldn’t be reunited with her family until the next day.
“At first, I didn’t want to play that game,” said the Saugus High School graduate. “I still felt so emotionally raw about what happened that I didn’t know if I would be able to stay calm and focused long enough to make it through the game.”
After talking to her parents and pastor, Phipps decided to step onto the soccer field with the hope that doing what she loved would help her move on.
With ironclad focus, Phipps got through the game and clenched a victory that felt very personal.
“At that moment, I knew I was going to dedicate every game I ever played from that point onward to the victims of the Route 91 shooting,” said Phipps of her winning goal. “I know it’s not much to give or do for them, but for me, dedicating something I love and am so passionate about to them is the biggest thing I can give.”
Phipps—who is graduating from COC on June 1 with an associate’s degree in kinesiology —largely credits soccer for helping her sort through her emotions as she moves toward acceptance over what happened.
“Being part of the soccer team was probably one of the best experiences of my life because it improved me as a player and I met some of my best friends on this team,” said Phipps. “The COC athletics program does a lot of work to make sure that their athletes have what they need to have a great two years academically and athletically.”
While at COC, Phipps earned All-Western State Conference (WSC) honors as a defender in 2017 and was named to both the 2017 California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA) Southern California All-Region and All-State Teams. She was also named a United Soccer Coaches Junior College Women’s Division III All-American and the WSC, East Division Player of the Year. During her freshman campaign at COC, Phipps was named the WSC, East Division Player of the Year.
“My two years at College of the Canyons have been two of the best years of my life,” Phipps said. “COC head coach Justin Lundin and assistant coach Charles Martinez, and the entire staff have been amazing in preparing me for what to expect at the next level.”
In the fall, Phipps will be transferring to Lubbock Christian University where she plans to work her way up to the soccer starting line.
She will be majoring in exercise science with a focus on athletic training and hopes to become a certified athletic trainer.
“I would like to work at the community college level because I got to see and experience how hands-on our trainers here at COC are and I’d really like to work in an environment like that,” said Phipps.
As a Route 91 Harvest survivor, she continues to take each day as it comes, but believes the experience has changed her for the better.
“It is a night that will always be a part of who I am,” said Phipps. “When something as tragic as that happens to you, it makes you realize that you are not invincible. You realize that you need to appreciate every moment you have in this life as well as appreciating the people you have around you that you love.”
Watch Phipps score her winning goal here.