“I decided to go for it. I mean, why not?” Toni Pressley told the media post game last month about her stunning left-footed strike in a 4-1 win over FC Kansas City.
While the decision to step up and take a shot may have led to Pressley scoring her first NWSL goal last month, it’s been the Orlando Pride defender’s decision to give some lifestyle changes a shot that’s led to her improved play this season.
Even before that Goal of the Week winning tally, Pressley was already generating buzz for her improved performance this season. Given how little attention is paid to defenders unless they’re making mistakes, that’s quite an achievement on its own.
Looking to improve her fitness this past offseason, a friend devised a very regimented, day-by-day schedule for her. That schedule included running five, sometimes six, times a week along with lifting three times. Equipped with the detailed plan, Pressley found it easier to stay on track while spending her offseason at the Orlando training facility.
“Every exercise, everything was laid out in front of me, and all I had to do was simply follow it,” Pressley told The Equalizer in a recent interview. “In previous offseasons, I kind of just took [fitness] into my own hands and obviously, this has worked out way better for me.”
Pressley also trained with Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger when they weren’t occupied by U.S. national team duty. In treating this offseason differently than previous ones, Pressley, now in her fifth season in the league, admits she’s matured in her understanding and commitment to her fitness.
“I think in previous years I wasn’t taking it as seriously as I should have and that hurt me a bit, but in this offseason that was something I really wanted to focus on,” she said.
Pressley also made two additional lifestyle changes in March that have paid dividends so far this season. The first, going vegan, was not done specifically to improve her on-field performance, but rather out of curiosity. She was intrigued by some vegan cookbooks she picked up and vegan restaurants she had dined at in the Orlando area.
“At first initially, it was out of curiosity and then it kind of grew into an animal rights issue and I think another side effect is it obviously changed my body,” Pressley said. “So I think there was just a lot of positive benefits of going vegan. I just kind of stuck to it and never looked back.”
The Pride have been very supportive of Pressley’s decision to go vegan. The staff has ensured that the center back gets what she needs nutritionally whether at home or away. Pressley’s teammates have tried some of the food she’s whipped up, and her roommates have embraced eating vegan at home as well.
“My roommates Jamia [Fields] and Caroline [Stanley], they eat vegan with me as well for the most part and really enjoy it and I think see the positive benefits of it as well,” Pressley said. “I think it’s awesome.”
When you watch the Florida State product this year, you’ve probably noticed that it’s not just her physical game that’s improved. Pressley is more confident, focused, and is reading the game better. That’s where the other change she made in March comes in. In preseason, she started watching a hypnosis video the night before each match. She credits the video with helping her relax and focus on game day.
Although this year has certainly been the best of Pressley’s career so far, it hasn’t been without hardships. Two weekends in a row this season Pressley was called for a foul in the penalty box. Those fouls proved costly for the Pride’s position in the standings.
“Yeah, it’s tough, but I just try as best as I can to not to let it affect me too much. I can’t kind of self-destruct,” Pressley said about the penalty calls. “I still have to keep focused and have tunnel vision.”
Undoubtedly, every season has its ups and downs. Through it all, she keeps her eyes on her primary aim in this season—to help her club make the NWSL playoffs for the first time and compete for a title.
“We want to get in the playoffs, and we want to win the whole thing,” Pressley said. “So just anything I can do personally to help, that’s what I’m most looking forward to, and I think that we have such a great team and a city behind us. As a club, we have all the tools.”