Senior Ellen Jansen wants to give you an inside look at the CUA women’s soccer program.  Jansen, a native of Richland, Washington, will be penning a blog for cuacardinals.com throughout the 2012 season.  Check back periodically for updates from Ellen as she takes you inside the Cardinals program...

11/14/12 – November: The Afterlife
This past Thursday, thirty members of the team and the coaches met in our usual pre-game conference room, the Cardinal Room.  But this time we weren’t suiting up for another game.  Unfortunately, our season ended on the previous Saturday in a 1-0 heartbreaker to Scranton in the Landmark semifinals.  But as we filed into the Cardinal Room, many of us unrecognizable in our street clothes, we greeted one another jovially and had put the past weekends' grievances behind us.  After all, there was much to be proud of – after entering conference play with an abysmal 2-5-0 record, we were able to win four consecutive games in October and make the play-offs.  Class by class, we reflected on our personal experiences, the ups and downs, the positives and the negatives.  While these moments were especially difficult for the seniors, the quick transition we went from being student-athletes to talking about being student-athletes was astounding…

Senior #1: Hey remember when our bus got lost on the way to Juniata?
Senior #2: Man, that was like three whole weeks ago but it feels like just yesterday!

In psychology, they would call this particular form of coping mechanism the denial phase.  But in the NCAA, they use a more technical term for this: being an ex-jock.  While us “ex-jocks” have a lifetime of activities to look forward to; namely, reliving the “glory days” and contemplating how we were ever once that skinny, the underclassmen have another season to look forward to and a promising one at that.  Across the field, a plethora of talent still remains here at CUA; on the attack Kaylre Greaves, who tied for most goals scored this season will return, as well as Kate Masson who was the only player to start and play in all 18 games this season.  Behind them we return two First Team All-Conference players – defender Tricia Colluci and goalkeeper Lexi Halperin.  While we were bummed that this was the last time this particular group of players would be together, we can seek condolence in two main points:

#1 WE ARE FORTUNATE TO HAVE HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO WEAR A CATHOLIC UNIFORM

Playing a collegiate sport is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  Not many people get the chance to represent their college day in and day out and earn the respect and loyalty of their friends, professors, and families.  Playing for Catholic University doesn’t just define our college experience, it defines the ten years of hard work leading up to that. It demonstrates our acceptance of challenge, our tenacity during adversity, and our desire for excellence.

A few weeks “off” and its clear the value added that this team has brought is invaluable.  While it is nice to escape from the demanding and emotional rollercoaster that soccer is, we find ourselves doing far less meaningful activities.  Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram – it’s just not the same.  You can only “pin” about the gluten-free cilantro lime tacos that you’ll never make or the fashionable Juicy Couture Angora Fair Isle scarf that you’ll never wear for so long.  It isn’t long before we realize how good we had it during those never-ending bus rides and those practices that lasted well into the night.

#2 THERE ARE WORSE WAYS TO GO DOWN

We might not make history for our superior athletic accomplishments like Lance Armstrong or Marion Jones.  But on the other hand, we also won’t be blacklisted in history like Lance Armstrong or Marion Jones.  We could have complained, gave up, or dabbled in steroids, but we didn’t.  Ultimately, we fought until the final seconds of every single game this season.  We overcame mediocrity, injuries, and misfortune.  When we were winning we stayed humble and when we were losing we stayed positive.  We left the field two Saturdays ago with our dreams and goals broken but our pride and dignity still intact.  There are much, much, worse ways to go down.

10/25/12 – Life in the Driver’s Seat
One of the drills we’ve added to our repertoire at practice is a series of competitive 7v7 games where the winning team stays on the pitch and the losing team parts ways with the soccer ball and does sprinting, sit ups, and push ups.  We feel the same way about these games as we feel about referees - we only like them when they go our way.  During the times that I’ve played these drills I’ve spent time on both the winning team and the losing team.  Playing on the winning “yellow” team was the life.  Once we got into a rhythm, we just kept firing shots off and annihilating our fatigued competition.  Once the yellow team got going, we were unstoppable.  Later on I played on the losing “orange” team which was like a living nightmare - panic, dehydration, and disorientation included.  No matter how hard we tried to outscore our competition, we just couldn’t get back on the right track, especially when our opposition was in a rhythm and had the upper-hand on confidence.  The coaches, being the wise-folk they are, have us play this game for a reason and it’s not to induce superstitions as to which colored pinnie is the cursed one, but to show us the value of momentum.

Like the competitive 7v7 games, these past few weeks have propelled a lot of momentum.  After a four-game winning streak, we started feeling pretty good about ourselves; even maybe felt a little bit over-confident.  Mary McGann became a minor DIII-list celebrity after being named Landmark Conference Player of the Week.  After two home game wins, a handful of us were interviewed after scoring goals, which have reached 25 hits on YouTube.  Even after our game at Juniata, a group of football players chased after our bus with cardboard signs with their phone numbers written on it.  We can’t keep the paparazzi away.

But just like rehab and jail time brought Brittney back down-to-earth, a duo of 0-0 double overtime ties definitely brought us back to reality as well.  In both games against Scranton and York, we felt that a solid effort was put forth.  However, I think we all could agree that we had just a little bit more to offer.  While last Saturday’s senior game recognition against Scranton was supposed to be secondary to the battle we had in front of us, it proved to be an emotional day for all, filled with all sorts of, “I can’t believe how fast time has gone,” or “remember that time when…?”  More than anything, it was an opportunity for the underclassmen to flood us with compliments, brag about everything we’ve accomplished, and for us to cut all the underclassmen in the food line at the post-game tailgate.  In retrospect, this behavior occurs every day in the life of a CUAWS player.  From here on out, I have declared every day Senior Day.

Keeping up the momentum is going to be crucial this weekend.  To say that our final conference game against Drew is important is like saying the universe is a tad bit spacious.  For the mathematically inclined, I could go through every permutation of the possible outcomes in the Landmark Conference – If Team A beats Team B and Team C and Team D tie, and Team A beats team D in the goals against category and if leading scorer from Team B gets the stomach flu, and if the center back from Team A is in a fragile state after being dumped by her boyfriend…. The speculation could go on for days.  The only thing we can really conclude is that a WIN this weekend means we make the playoffs.  From here on out, WE control our own destiny.  WE are in the driver’s seat.  Now all we have to do is turn off the cruise control.

10/14/12 – October brings new hope
Hello and welcome to the month of October, a month where September’s painful memories wither away like fall leaves wither off a tree.  A month where a new wave of commitment, attitude, and goal scoring breeze in like crisp autumn air, blowing away September’s doubt, insecurities, and shortcomings.

Here are a few new and exciting things that have happened here in the CUAWS forecast:

  1. After entering overtime for the third time this season, we finally achieved a 3-2 win over Rutgers-Camden.
  2. JP earned his 100th career win as head coach at Catholic, after a nail-biter of a match against Trinity.
  3. After a loss and a tie in our first two conference games, we achieved a hard earned victory over Juniata.

Although stoked with our set of victories over Rutgers-Camden and Trinity, we knew that we had a crucial conference game against Juniata.  Statistics and standings don’t mean everything to us, but we knew that a victory was imperative to get us on the right track for achieving our goals this season.  The very stakes of this game make it difficult to express how untimely it was that our bus was catastrophically lost somewhere in central Pennsylvania, causing us to arrive about two hours later than we would have liked.  If I had to describe our pregame warm-up, I would compare it to starting to study for a cumulative exam 20 minutes before it starts; it was very frantic, lacked continuity, and was subject to judgment from the “straight A student” (Juniata) who would never think to study at the last minute – e.g. show up to the game late.  Juniata was like the student who shows up to the test with a Nutri-Grain bar and a Vitamin Water situated on their desk.  We were the student that shows up after the proctor has already handed out the blue books and is happy to have remembered a pencil, yet dismayed to find out she doesn’t have an eraser.   But as any procrastinator knows, sometimes preparation is overrated.  We came out energized, scored the first goal, and although we let three in during the second half, our constant attack state of mind allowed us to put the game away and head home with an exciting 4-3 win.

With great morale after our win, we got on the bus and after much deliberation, picked the perfect movie to watch during the ride home.  To cater to JP’s artistic and theatrical side, we watched Center Stage, a movie about ballet and so much more.  Now I dozed off a few times during this movie, but the premise seemed to be that there were three ballerinas.  Ballerina #1 really loved dancing, and despite lacking the raw talent possessed by the other girls and making multiple transgressions with other male ballerinas, she eventually worked her way to the top.  Ballerina #2 danced because her mother wanted her to and eventually quit.  Meanwhile, ballerina #3, the feisty girl who did whatever she wanted and answered to no one, continued to dance because she danced for herself and only herself.  Center Stage… a movie about focus, overcoming adversity, and dreams.  Who knew that ballerinas and soccer players had so much in common?

Anyway, we’ve been having a lot of fun lately but the work continues as we have two more “high stakes” games this week.  We play Goucher, a team that has recently proven to be a force in the Landmark Conference, and then Scranton, a name which speaks for itself and we expect nothing less of ourselves to win.  Our 3-0 record in October has us feeling great and confident right now, but we all know what it’s like to let ourselves down, so from here we just want to keep the momentum going.

9/30/12 – It’s been a tough two weeks
Whether you’ve played soccer at an international forefront or even the most elementary “Big Green” inspired level, you’ve probably experienced that horrendous feeling where you attempt to kick the ball and you end up kicking yourself in the opposite foot.  A series of emotions flow through your mind, primarily pain for the self-inflicted throbbing infecting your ankle, but so many other emotions come to mind: embarrassment - because everyone saw you; frustration - because, of course, you were right in front of the goal; confusion - as to the anatomical feasibility of how that even happened.  You limp around for a few minutes hoping the sting to both your ankle and your pride will subside.  You shoot the ref a dirty, “did you see that?” look hoping to get a lucky call.  These are all normal reactions.  But the bottom line is, you’re mostly just mad because you kicked yourself in the foot.


The game ends, and your head still goes back to that one play, where you kicked yourself right in front of the goal.  You take off your cleats in an eager attempt to get as far away from the soccer field as possible.  You notice you have a hideous scrape on your ankle, yet another reminder of that one play.  You just can’t get it out of your mind.  You know it doesn’t reflect your ability as an athlete, player, or member of the team, but the frustration is there nonetheless.

We’ve been “kicking ourselves in the foot” a lot lately, and all the emotions that come along with it; pain, frustration, and confusion have ensued.  A bad touch here, a pass to the other team there, a 50-50 ball gone unchallenged there all have added to a series of self-inflicted wounds.  We can look around and see who is watching, we can blame it on the refs. But the bottom line is, we’re mostly just mad at ourselves.

Even when the game is over, we can’t stop thinking about some of the little things that went wrong.  Try as we might, this game is a part of us, and like a bruised ankle, it’s not going anywhere.  We know that we are good athletes, teammates, and soccer players, but the frustration is there.

Sometimes, when things that once came so easily to you become so difficult to the point that  you have two left feet, you have to start with the basic things and work your way up.  We did a drill on Wednesday where we all were in a grid, passing a ball in numbered order from one teammate to the next, going for four minutes at a time. Sounds simple?  Any ball awry meant we started over until we got it right.  After a few repeats we finally got it right.  Then we added another ball.  And Another.  And another.  We surprised ourselves at what we were capable of managing.  From then on, we’ve been building.  Starting with the basics, we’ve gotten bigger into more game-like situations, and added a competitive element to everything we do.  With everything we’ve done, we’ve been focusing making each day better and focusing on the present.  Each and every day is an opportunity to prove what we haven’t done yet this season - that we are a force to be reckoned with.  We want to do great things this season.  We believe we can.  Will we?  That depends on us.

9/18/12 – The good, the bad, and the feisty
Just when we thought we were getting back on the right path after a good showing at the Mary Washington tournament, we faced a tough 1-0 loss against Gettysburg in the final minutes of the game. Disappointed with the results and even more disappointed with our showing, we picked up the pieces and immediately looked forward to our game against Christopher Newport University.  Although hurt by the loss, this past week was not without it’s share of excitement. Our coaches brought in two soccer celebrities one night, Joanna Lohman and Lianne Sanderson, two professional players who have played at the highest levels. They talked about the highs and lows of their careers and shared their experiences of traveling the world; all for the love of the game.  Joanna and Lianne’s presence at practice added another level of competitiveness, a sort of “let’s see who can impress the pros” attitude.   Joanna and Lianne served as a reminder for why we play this game in the first place – a reminder that carried our intensity throughout the week. After Saturday’s morning practice, JP informed us that we would be wearing our black jerseys to accommodate our opponent on Sunday as they had a double header this weekend. Now, while this could have been seen as a breach of our home field rights, we looked at this from another angle. Black… soo intimidating…. Soooo slimming… soooo chic! If that’s not handling adversity, then I don’t know what is.

While it was the seniors that entered this game knowing there was special significance, the entire team showed up to play. Three years ago, as freshmen, we played the Captains on the road, as the underdogs. We entered the game with a kind of blind confidence that only freshmen can possess, but inevitably it helped us get the result we wanted. Three years later, and while we had the home field advantage, we were still the underdogs. For the seniors, it was an opportunity to regain the confidence that we once had, and for the underclassmen, it was an opportunity to make a statement.

As we stepped out on the pitch in our svelte black uniforms, a different team showed up to play.  We were physical, we were energetic, and we were playing to win. While we knew that game was going to be physical, I don’t think anybody could have predicted the aggressive behavior that was to ensue.  If I had a quarter for every foul that occurred, I would have 37 quarters. Which I realize isn’t that much money, but that’s a lot of fouls. Name calling and insults of the most unbecoming nature were used. But, this is The Catholic University of America and it was the Sabbath, and we responded by scoring a goal during the 79th minute of the game. It was by either the grace of God or the ten pounds that the black uniforms dropped that allowed us to get in behind CNU’s defense and put a well-deserved goal in the net. The last 11 minutes was a chaotic blur, but by some combination of desire, commitment, and about $2.25 worth of fouling, we were able to deny CNU of scoring the equalizer.

Victory never tasted so good. Literally. Our parents provided a giant tailgate at the end with a variety of homemade green salads, pasta salads, subs, chips, dips, cupcakes, brownies, cookies, brownie-cookies, and more.  The McGanns showed a little Italian flair and brought hearty meatballs. Mrs. Yanni’s pulled pork achieved a perfect balance of tender slow cooked meat, and zesty barbeque flavoring, while the Cadott’s infamous cookie cake did not disappoint.  The execution on behalf of the parents was flawless, and for that, we thank them.  We’d also like to confirm a time and place for the next tailgate?

9/9/12 – “Work hard, play hard, have fun.”
For those who have been to our games, seen the stats on our website, and/or seen the Twitter and Facebook updates, you can probably deduce that our first string of games did not result in the way that we wanted. Of course we wanted to start off our season undefeated, with a load of confidence to lead us through the fall. Remaining positive when you're winning is easy. Reacting to adversity is a different story.

The good thing is you learn the most from losing and learn we did. One of the attempts to improve our performance was initiated during a meeting with just the seniors and the coaches. The 11 of us share a strong understanding of the game, a willingness to comprehend directions, and an ability to dissect and look at the game with a critical eye. But much like being pretty and popular, being intelligent and analytical is a double-edged sword. What we needed was to find drive and passion, which sometimes you just can’t teach. JP's request of us in the meeting was simple – find a way to get more pumped up and to inspire the entire team to come out ready to play.  Honestly JP, couldn’t you just give us like a book to read or something?

But taking his advice to heart (after much thought and consideration albeit) our pregame rituals began to incorporate more "inspiration driven" and age appropriate activities including, but not limited to: hair braiding, Beyonce and Whitney inspired dance moves, and articulating long series of profanities outlining how we wanted to inflict severe bodily pain on our opponents.

After a focused week where we prepared mentally by each completing individual match reports, and physically by focusing during tactically oriented practices, our efforts showed up in our game against Mary Washington. Even though we came up short, we played hard and fought until the end. While we were all incredibly frustrated to lose, JP deemed this a "moral victory," which to us signified improvement, but to the outside world has about as much weight as a gold star (see blog post #2). We owed it to ourselves to earn a real victory.

If being narrowly edged out in Saturday’s game didn’t weigh us down, the quantities of food made available during the following night definitely did.  Shout out to Kaylre’s mom for the exceptional authentic New York style bagels.  It paired nicely with the hotel’s complementary hot chocolate. And the bottomless Olive Garden breadsticks. And the bottomless salad. And the bottomless pasta. Team dinners are always a great opportunity to not only eat and not pay, but to catch a glimpse of only the best in fall trends. If I had to describe our team style in five words I would probably say: We have nobody to impress. While there are always a few girls on the ambitious side that like, wear blue jeans, the rest of the team is represented by an eclectic blend of grey t-shirts, “vintage” high school hoodies, and running shorts with subtle hints of Adidas stripes. It’s people like us that detract from the suburban chain-restaurant charm and stature associated with Olive Garden.

With clear heads, full hearts and full stomachs, we entered our game today knowing that we couldn't lose. JP’s message in the huddle was straightforward – “Work hard, play hard, have fun.” Our coach just dropped the F-bomb. Fun? What place does this have in a collegiate level soccer match? But as the game began and we played to our potential, it really was fun. We were connecting with one another and generating good opportunities on goal. In the opening minutes we scored, or so we thought seeing as the ball hit the net, but we won’t dwell on the questionable depth perception of the officials. Regardless, we were able to convert a goal during the first half for a 1-0 lead.  We were tested in the second half when Rowan got the equalizer, but we bounced back immediately and put another one in. We won the game 2-1 and had fun, but we are far from settling for those results. This Wednesday we play at Gettysburg, a non-conference rival that we have lost to in the past two matchups. Today we needed momentum and that’s what we got, but the work has just begun.

8/27/12  - Let the Games begin!
It’s been a busy week for CUAWS both physically and mentally.  Tuesday morning included the long anticipated Manchester fitness test.  Just to clue in the lucky few that don’t know, the “Man U” is an actual fitness test that Manchester United does and it consists of a series of sprinting, jogging, repeating, feeling dizzy, crying, and more running.  Once again, we proved to be up to the challenge.  Fighting back soreness from the previous day’s workout everyone found themselves pushing themselves to make as many laps across the field as possible. Our coach, JP was pleased with our efforts and our assistant coach LP was already counting down until he could issue us our next “physical reward for the body,” as he so calls it.

With our biggest fitness tests behind us, we were anxious and ready to start playing soccer.  It became very evident during these training sessions that our team, collectively, has a very high soccer IQ. Despite not playing together very much, everyone had a good understanding of where to be on the field and we did great combination plays across the board. Furthermore, our efforts to apply pressure on the ball and play with a competitive edge were unprecedented from seasons in the past.  CUAWS has a tradition of ranking itself after each practice on a scale of 1-10 based on both effort and execution. Anything below a 5 is unacceptable while anything above an 8 is excellent. When JP gave us a 9 on the effort/execution scale after one of our training sessions our enthusiasm could be rivaled by that of only a ten year old being issued a “gold star” for good behavior; in that, to us it seemed really awesome but from an “outside world” perspective it actually just seems really lame.

One of the questions that we college athletes get asked a lot is - what do you do in your spare time? Generally we would respond by saying that we don’t have spare time. But with a day off on Thursday and classes not in session yet, our response to this question based on last week could be marginally more exciting - we went on a walk to get the lactic acid of our legs and then we attended a seminar on nutrition!

All jokes aside, we were really privileged to get to do some non-soccer related things. Thursday we decided to do a little team bonding and we took the metro down to the National Mall and WWII Monument. It was a beautiful day and a great opportunity to show the freshmen around their own backyard for the next four years. On Saturday afternoon, Jackie Yacenda, a former CUA soccer player and assistant coach gave us a seminar on nutrition. It was an excellent opportunity to clarify some misconceptions about nutrition and for us to learn a few more things like the proper time to drink Gatorade and the importance of carbohydrates. Having been in our shoes before, Jackie was able to give us great insights as to what specifically to eat for success on the soccer field.

As Sunday rolled along, we were pretty excited to finally play a scrimmage against some girls other than ourselves. Overall we did some really positive things on all areas of the field, scored a great goal, and found ourselves awaiting the next challenge.  We were lucky to have a team challenge us to play under pressure, which we know will come up more in the Landmark Conference.

With a little under a week until our first game, we are currently in the process of making a “teamwork book” where we make pages stating goals as well as include inspirations, tidbits, or quotes.  Aside from being an excellent opportunity to exploit the more artistic members on the team, it's just another way to confirm that all 30 players , as well as the coaches, are on the same page so that we are prepared both mentally and physically for or first game, which, by the way, is this Saturday, 3:00 pm, versus Frostburg State... See you there!

8/20/12 - An introduction to CUA women’s Soccer….. OUR TIME IS NOW!
Hello and welcome to the first blog of the season, a sneak preview of what this year’s women’s soccer team has to offer. It’s going to be an exciting season for the family, fans, coaches, and especially the 30 players that make up our roster this year. With respected captains, Caitlin Conroy and Katie Donatelli, backed by nine other seniors, we find ourselves in a position with extensive leadership, experience and dedication. For those who didn’t follow our season via ESPN Primetime Highlights last season, we finished with a respectable 12-7-0 overall record, made it to the Conference Championship game where we were edged out by our conference rivals, Scranton, and placed four players on All-Conference Teams.

But as any coach or troubled youth mentor would tell you the past is the past, and what matters is what happens in the now. We began our journey yesterday as we checked into CUA, beginning with a quick captain’s practice, followed by a team meeting. As usual, we used this opportunity for everyone to get to know each other where we formed circles stating our names, hometown, major, and a “fun fact.” One of the best parts of playing on a team with such a diverse and flavorful group of individuals is seeing the variety of “fun facts” that people bring to the table. Our answers ranged from the more common –“I played soccer this summer! or “I have several siblings!” – to the more outrageous, “I danced with lil’ Jon! and “I was invited to a party at Adam Sandler’s house but my dad wouldn’t let me go!”  It’s these varieties of personalities that make up such a unique and inspiring team, and these personalities definitely transcend to the field; where we all play our special part.

After our lighthearted captain’s practice, we waltzed into the Cardinal Room where we were greeted by a PowerPoint that read - CUA Women’s Soccer…OUR TIME IS NOW!!!  The tone of the afternoon had changed and we were ready to have a more focused and serious discussion. We talked about team rules and expectations. We talked about what we wanted to accomplish. We looked to teams like the USWNT, and Manchester City for inspiration. We received personalized tips from the coaches. Metaphors were used.

We left the meeting with a sense of motivation, focus, and drive. Given the nature of our team where our collective maturity can be summarized by our affinity for Justin Bieber and One Direction, I would say the mentality we achieved was a rather impressive feat.

The drive and determination of which we left the meeting translated to our effort in the first practice session. To put it in the most humble and eloquent way possible, we pretty much kicked butt in all of our fitness tests this morning. Several upperclassmen shattered previous PR’s for their mile time while newcomers challenged the rest of us.  In our shuttle runs, we normally set our sights on finishing under 40, which an astounding portion of the team achieved. However, there was a solid group of people pushing themselves to get around 35 seconds every time.  This is encouraging in two respects - first, we know that we are not the kind of team that does “just enough” to get by, and second, we know that if Title IX ever falls through and we lose our funding, we could always try out for the men’s track team.  But seriously, our fitness showed great potential and will prove to be useful when these grueling conference games come up. Stay posted as we track our progress throughout preseason…I’m sure at some point this week we’ll touch a ball.

Ellen

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