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Back Together Again

Back Together Again

by Kevin Ivany

Six years ago, they were suitemates at the University of Miami.

Today, they are reunited in one of professional soccer’s most competitive leagues.

If you need a refresher, not only known at Miami for her defensive prowess as a midfielder, Grace Rapp also had a knack for finding the back of the net. She tallied seven goals, eight assists and 22 points while sporting orange and green.

Phallon Tullis-Joyce, meanwhile, was a stalwart in the net. She closed her career with 62 starts and has her name all over the Miami record book, ranking in the top three of several statistical categories including wins (24), shutouts (14), saves (259) and minutes played (5,584).

However, prior to all of their collegiate and professional achievements, the duo looked back to the start of the 2014 season and chuckled when recalling their first interactions with one another.

“Oh boy, good times, our freshman year of college were. Grace and I were suitemates so most of our conversations were held when one of us was bored and we’d pop into each other’s rooms for a casual conversation,” Tullis-Joyce said. “One of the most infamous Grace pop-ins was after I had just gotten dumped; Grace has always had great timing. We were always friends and had a laugh here and there, but with us having different majors, we didn’t spend much time together.”

Looking back on these ill-timed situations, Rapp couldn’t help but laugh at Tullis-Joyce’s remarks herself.

“I seemed to always have had impeccable timing of walking into her room when she was upset, awkwardly slithering back into my room pretending not to have noticed because I was lacking comforting skills at the time,” Rapp said. “We laugh about it so much now, how socially inept I was.

“Through college we were great teammates and I always admired the extra things she did for the team, whether that was organizing team activities, giving meaningful gifts to seniors or choreographing the team talent show,” Rapp continued. “Off the pitch, we had different friendship groups so it wasn’t until France that I really got to know her.”

2014 Miami Hurricanes Women's Soccer Photo Day (Phallon Tullis-Joyce top right, Grace Rapp bottom right)

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After training with Tottenham following graduation, Rapp, a native of Somerset, England, signed her first professional contract with Selfoss in Iceland last summer.

“Iceland was fun and it was the perfect stepping stone from college to the French league,” Rapp said. “There were parts of my game I had to work on before joining a bigger club and Selfoss offered that perfectly. I improved not only technically, but also mentally…The Icelandic girls were cool, optimistic and ended up becoming my family and made me feel comfortable on the field, which enabled me to play at my best.”

After finishing third in the league, Rapp and her teammates were looking for more heading into the Icelandic cup, known as The Bikarmeistarar. Playing in front of her family and best friend, Rapp and her team capped the season in jubilation, as the club won its first major trophy.

“The whole town came out to celebrate with us and set off fireworks. It was an incredible experience,” Rapp said. “That’s what football is all about. It was also the perfect goodbye to Iceland.”

Following a magical ending to her first professional season, Rapp was ready to see if there was a possibility to join a club competing in one of the top French or English divisions. Her agent, Micheal Beatty informed her an opportunity had arisen, as a club previously in Ligue 2 was looking to add a holding midfielder since earning a promotion to the top French division.

“When he told me [it was Stade de Reims], I asked if he was joking because I knew Phallon was there,” Rapp recalled. “So, it was by chance, but she must have put in a good word for me.”

Over 2,200 miles away, Tullis-Joyce received the surprising good news from her coach. Amanine Miquel.

“Our coach contacted me one day saying she was looking at a player that she thinks I definitely know and I answered, ‘Oh really, who?’ … ‘Grace Rapp’ … ‘NO WAY.’ I’m pretty sure I laughed and said, ‘Well, you’ll definitely enjoy her sense of humor,’” Tullis-Joyce said.

With a decision needing to be made, Rapp turned to her former UM teammate for advice and was quickly reassured of what decision she was going to make.

“She stayed very professionally neutral [over the phone] and gave me all the information I needed to make the decision myself,” Rapp said. “But from the day I was told, it was already a no-brainer because I knew France Ligue 1 was one of the best leagues in the world with the opportunity to play the best women’s teams.”

Though she kept her cool, there was no denying the joy Tullis-Joyce felt on her end of the calls.

“I was super excited to hear Grace could potentially be coming. We have a quirky team and her personality, not to mention her playing style, would fit in really well. I just didn’t know how well,” Tullis-Joyce said. “It was great, as soon as Grace came it was like we hadn’t been out of contact for two years.  I was excited to play with her again.”

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Tullis-Joyce’s journey to France was a bit different.

After closing out her collegiate career in dominant fashion, the 2019 Second Team All-ACC award winner learned on Jan. 20, 2019 her dreams of becoming a professional goalkeeper were quickly becoming a reality.

Still, while she was thrilled to have the opportunity to try out for Stade de Reims, Tullis-Joyce was unsure what her future might hold.

Though she could very well leave at the end of her week-long tryout, her future coaches told her to pack as if she would be staying for six months.

“French honesty,” Tullis Joyce said with a smile.

But it didn’t take long for her to catch that coaching staff’s attention. Before long, her focus shifted from merely trying to make the team to instead, trying to become the primary goalie.

“I was definitely pretty nervous, but also really excited for the opportunity.  I arrived on a Tuesday and my first training session was an hour-and-a-half long goalkeeper training,” Tullis-Joyce said. “The next morning the coach called me into her office and offered me a six-month contract.”

Those first six months she was Reims’ second string goalkeeper as the club looked to earn a promotion out of Ligue 2. She gained experience in scrimmages, while also learning the French style of play and improving on her weaknesses during extra training sessions.

At the end of the 2019-20 season, she earned minutes in the final three contests, which gave her a chance to make an impression heading into the offseason. Then, during the 2020 preseason, Tullis-Joyce took advantage of another opportunity, battling for and winning the starting job, a position she holds to this day.

“Getting my first start against Montpellier was an incredible feeling and with every [Ligue 1] match I learned even more about myself and the game,” Tullis-Joyce said. “Before my first match I was pretty zoned in and mentally ready, the warm up went well, my nerves were tame. Then the first whistle blew and reality swooped in that I was in my first ever [Ligue 1] professional match against many impressive players, but quickly, I snapped back into the play and made a few good saves.”

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One of Rapp’s most memorable moments since joining Reims happened to be her debut, when the team took on Marseille.

“I remember it being a beautiful hot day, we beat them 3-0 and I came on for the last 10, with mum in the crowd,” Rapp said. “It was Reims’ first win in Ligue 1, so we were ecstatic. There was so much dancing, singing, banging on the walls and chants in the locker room. I had no idea what team I had just joined, but was loving it all. I think I said to Phallon, ‘Is it always like this when you win?’ She goes, ‘yup.’ It’s great. I feel as if there’s a lot more celebration after a win with Europeans; it was the same in Iceland.”

In addition, Rapp explained how facing the top two teams in the division last year were exceptional moments, as she squared off against women she had always looked up to watching the English national team.

“Playing PSG at the men’s stadium, Stade Auguste Delaune, there were so many people. The away fans from PSG were so loud all the way through the game and set off a flare at the end,” Rapp said. “I think it’s the biggest stage I have ever played on. We were up 1-0 at halftime, which also was unbelievable.

“Also, playing Lyon, facing the best players in the world, such as Lucy Bronze and Nikita Parris, it was unbelievable, really,” Rapp continued. “I remember arriving at the game and walking into the locker room and our marks were up on the wall. I saw Rapp on [French captain Amandine] Henry and I was grinning so hard. Terrified excitement came over me, having never thought I would have this opportunity.”

Tullis-Joyce echoed the excitement of first going up against the top teams in the division, while also reminding Rapp of one of her favorite ‘Phallon moments.’

“Playing against teams like Lyon, PSG and Montpellier has been equally thrilling and nerve wracking. I remember the first whistle of my first D1 game against Montpellier where I locked eyes with [Valérie] Gauvin, a French national team player, and that’s when it hit me that I was a professional,” Tullis-Joyce said. “My best moment on the field with Reims was our game against Soyaux that was an intense muddy battle for 90 minutes and we pulled out with the 1-0 win even with a penalty kick called against us…I may or may not have ripped my jersey off at the end of that game in pure joy.”

This question was quickly confirmed by Rapp.

“Phallon had a penalty in the last minute of the game and when she saved it moments before the whistle blew, she ripped off her shirt,” Rapp said. “It was hilarious and so dramatic. It will forever be lodged in my memory as Phallon, the green Hulk.”

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As their bond strengthens every day since joining forces in Paris, both Rapp and Tullis-Joyce relish in some of their most memorable moments together.

With so many coming to mind, Tullis-Joyce was hard-pressed trying to pick just one, while recalling the two of them sitting in their team-sponsored car amazed by the deliciousness of beignets, as well as their French lessons together where the New York native will be found crunched over in laughter.

“But, possibly my favorite moment with Grace was my second match against Lyon, but her first. I had nerves before the game and Grace put some green powder in a water bottle [electrolyte], shook it up, called it Monster Juice, we took a sip and banished all our doubt demons,” Tullis-Joyce said. “We stepped onto the field, still got crushed, but after the game Grace was beaming and fangirling from playing against some of the best soccer players in the world like Lucy Bronze and Dzenifer Marozsan. It was really powerful to see her there having played against greats, when just a few years before we were kids in Miami dreaming of playing professionally. Not to mention our former teammates Maisie Baker, Emily Auld and Molly Lynch were there in the crowd cheering us on.  A Miami reunion.

“There was also one time we were roommates in a potentially haunted hotel…let’s just say there were tears in our eyes from so much laughter and fear,” Tullis-Joyce continued. “The most valuable lesson I’ve learned from Grace is that I’m really not alone, not alone in my thoughts, nerves or doubts.  Whether it was after getting dumped or a blowout against Lyon, Grace has always been someone I can talk to during the tough times.”

For Rapp, what stands out most to her is how she considers Tullis-Joyce to be one of the hardest-working teammates she has ever had.

“She’s definitely a role model. She keeps the standards high and makes me think I should be doing even more half the time. This was confirmed when I was awoken from my bed at 3 a.m. to banging coming from upstairs,” Rapp said, explaining how her teammate lives on the floor right above her. “I went to the door to check if anyone was there, but there wasn’t. I told the girls the next day and Phallon looked super guilty. She said, ‘Oh, that may have been me, I was practicing my goal kicks against my wall.’

“She also hosted the best Halloween party in perhaps all of France last year,” Rapp continued. “Cobwebs spanned her apartment, blood on the floor, pumpkin carvings, ghost cake pops, Halloween karaoke songs. The French were very confused. Phallon came as a big dinosaur.”

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A typical week for the professionals begins on a Monday, the team’s off day, with French tutoring in the morning followed by a sprint interval and a jump rope centric workout at night.

The next four days include a mix of fitness and training sessions, along with going over specific tactics for Saturday’s match.

“Our trainings end late around 8:30/9 p.m., so I normally make dinner and watch some Netflix until bedtime,” Tullis-Joyce said. “Although, when there is a Champions League game, Grace, a couple teammates and myself walk to our local pizzeria for a cheat meal and to watch the game.”

With these busy weeks, both Rapp and Tullis-Joyce are thankful they had the opportunity to compete at Miami as a stepping stone to where they are now.

“I learned the basics of scheduling an athlete life at college. For example, time management, diet, sleep, time off. All these things are very individualized, but crucial for recovery and improvement,” Rapp said. “The ACC was certainly competitive. It prepared me with resilience, to have a tough mindset, and taught me that winning doesn’t come easy, you have to work for what you want.

“The athleticism at Miami was on another level, it pushed me to new thresholds, which has shaped me as a player mentally and physically,” Rapp continued. “To use those training facilities for four years and work alongside other incredibly talented collegiate athletes at the University of Miami was dreamlike, looking back. It is nothing I have experienced through my career thus far. College sport in America, as I experienced at Miami, definitely set the standards of how every women’s athlete should be treated.”

The former UM goalkeeper shared these thoughts, while also joking by adding how she wishes she would have studied the French language a little bit more.

“At Miami, especially during my fifth year with coach [Sarah] Barnes and the current staff, we spent a lot of time honing my technique in preparation for playing professionally.  Having faced shots and played in games against teams like UNC and FSU, these big games were a great stepping stone in being ready to face even harder competition in D1 Arkema,” Tullis-Joyce said. “The time I spent with sports psychologists was especially crucial in my transition, as I was able to control my nerves way better than the freshman version of myself.  Having already gone through a redshirt year, I was ready mentally for my first six months in France to grind it out and eventually win the starting spot.”

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With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic spreading across the globe, Reims’ season, like that of many others, was cut short. However, the team has remained in close contact through Zoom, in order to keep up with daily workouts and discussions, as preparations are being made to reopen training on July 11, while the team’s first match is scheduled for Sept. 5.

“COVID made things pretty crazy for our team. I had about five hours to buy a plane ticket, sort out my apartment, pack a bag and head to the airport in Paris to fly home to New York,” Tullis-Joyce said. “I have been training, running and working out on my own. I did a few of my own 30-day challenges, like 200 pushups, 600 sit-ups and 100 squats a day, since March.”

Rapp also stated how the time-off has actually been a blessing in disguise.

“Personally, I really needed this break because I had back-to-back seasons. I went straight from training with Tottenham, to the Icelandic summer league, to the French winter league. Without a break, I was definitely running on thin ice,” Rapp said. “It has also been great to spend more time with my family which I never usually get to do because I’m always off playing.”

Despite being away from the team, Tullis-Joyce looked back on her first 18 months in Paris and couldn’t be happier with how everything has unfolded.

“I am really grateful for the coaching staff and the rest of the squad in Reims. They have been very welcoming and understanding ever since I arrived,” Tullis-Joyce said. “I knew zero French when I landed in France, but the girls and staff were quick to help me both on and off the field in broken English.  We are a funny, young team, yet we are all still really driven to win. I also have a pretty good relationship with my defenders. We communicate frequently in French and keep our line on lockdown; if ever there is an issue we are comfortable enough to talk it out.”

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In preparation for the 2020-21 campaign, both Rapp and Tullis-Joyce are looking forward to what is ahead with a few goals in mind.

“Last year, our primary focus [as a team] was to survive and stay in D1, while my goal was to be the starter.  This year, now that we’ve played against the giants, we are looking to unleash our potential and pull out some big wins and finish in the top of the league,” Tullis-Joyce said. “Individually, I hope to keep growing as a goalkeeper in confidence and be able to walk out of each game feeling like I gave everything.”

For Rapp, in addition to helping the team remain a part of Ligue 1 and make a push for a title, she also wants to continue improving her overall game.

“This season, I am looking to retain a starting position and be a more demanding and vocal player. That includes speaking more French,” Rapp said. “Technically, I am aiming to be more involved offensively, get more shots in, while also improving my agility and quickness on the ball.

“Long term, look after my body through the season. I had an injury early on from joining the French season straight from a summer in Iceland and I think I was just trying stay on top of it all, which caused me to suffer from fatigue and burn out,” Rapp continued. “I would love to stay here for at least another year, while keep seeing improvement in myself and the team.”

Away from the pitch, Tullis-Joyce, the former two-time Student-Athlete Advisory Committee president still looks to pursue her desired career once her playing days come to an end in the distant future.

“My plan is to return to marine biology once I retire from soccer by joining a PhD program, hopefully in Australia,” Tullis-Joyce said. “Until then, I am actually still working on a paper with Dr. Sen Roy from the University of Miami using the mapping software, ArcGIS, to study Karenia brevis, a dinoflagellate native to Florida.  I’m also dabbling in taxonomy and scientific illustration in my down time.”

(From left to right: Alexander Martin, Blake James, Kristina Fisher - Phallon Tullis-Joyce, Shirelle Jackson, Sarah Baron)

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With goals set, dreams coming true and friendships renewed, Rapp and Tullis-Joyce are closer than they have ever been and are grateful to have one another.

“She’s the best and it’s funny we went through college not particularly close, but it’s been so great having her friendship through this transition and now I can’t imagine doing this without her. She has helped me settle in and I am so thankful for her friendship and for keeping me laughing.”

Grace Rapp