Player Diaries ...

GIVING THANKS:

Two players from #1-seeded Division I women's soccer teams – Duke 5th-year senior forward Molly Lester (Atlanta, Ga.) and Wake Forest sophomore defender Courtney Owen (Annandale, Va.) – recently took a few moments over the Thanksgiving holiday to reflect on what they and their team are thankful for, in addition to reflecting on their season and their upcoming quartrerfinal games that were played the day after Thanksgiving (both teams advanced, along with the other #1 seeds, Stanford and Florida State).

Here are their comments, provided exclusively for CollegeSoccer360.com: 

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Duke Women's Soccer 2011 Thanksgiving Diary Entry – "There's No Place Like Home" 

Molly Lester H 180

By: Molly Lester  (Duke 5th-year senior defender; Atlanta, Ga.; #15)

(Editor's Note: Interestingly, the phrase "no place like home" will take on greater significance in the upcoming week, as Lester now will be advancing with her Duke teammates to the College Cup's final weekend at Kennesaw State, located on the outskirts of her hometown Atlanta.)

My name is Molly Lester and I am a fifth-year senior (I know, right? Old!) on the women's soccer team at Duke. 

But hey, what a season we've had! "DWS" [Duke women's soccer] definitely has a lot to be thankful for this year and I personally am very thankful I stuck around to use my fifth year of eligibility. This is a special team with a lot of heart, a lot of talent, a lot of passion and a lot of drive. We've grown together in the past four months and are ready to face the final challenges before us. 

It's hard to believe that we've been at this since August. From day one of preseason, everyone has trained with one goal in mind: a national championship. There have been a few heartbreakers along the way -- a last-minute loss to our rival down the road, an upset at Auburn, and a season-ending injury for one of our captains -- but, all in all, I'd say it's been nearly a perfect season. 

We now find ourselves in Durham for Thanksgiving, hosting the Elite Eight against Long Beach State. This is the first Elite Eight appearance for most of the team (actually my third ... I told you I was old!) and the first time several of our girls have ever spent Thanksgiving away from home. After practice yesterday, a few of us started discussing what we were thankful for and that got us thinking about the season and this team. 

Molly Lester A 250 final

So, what is DWS thankful for? 

We're all thankful for the obvious things -- our loving families, the passionate coaching staff, a world-class education, and the opportunity to compete for a national title -- but on a more lighthearted note, I'd say we are mostly thankful to be on our home field one last time as a number one seed. 

Life on the road can be treacherous and this team has definitely had its fair share of travel mishaps. In the half-decade I've been a member of this team, we've experienced numerous travel complications. I won't bore you with wearisome details about speeding bus drivers, forgotten gear, cancelled flights, crazed flight attendants, and freak mid-September wind storms, but take my word that playing at home is a luxury second-to-none. 

I find this to be especially true late in the NCAA Tournament. In my time here, we've jetted off to Los Angeles, Stillwater, Okla., South Bend, Ind. (ever been there is late November? I don't recommend it., and Gainesville, Fla., for the first three rounds of the tournament.

My hat's off to Long Beach State for making the trek cross-country. I sympathize with the travel and it alone is enough to motivate any team to upset the competitor on their home field. In order to secure a victory on Friday, we will need to play our game -- high-pressure possession with confidence in front of the goal. 

But, for right now, I hope the team will enjoy the holiday. After practice on Thursday morning, we will all convene at a favorite Durham restaurant for a team Thanksgiving celebration. I anticipate we'll go around the tables, discussing what we're thankful for, and as we do, this seasoned veteran will remind everyone there's no place like home. 

– Molly Lester

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Wake Forest Women's Soccer 2011 Thanksgiving Diary Entry

Courtney Owen H 180

By: Courtney Owen (Wake Forest sophomore defender; Annandale, Va.; #28)

My name is Courtney Owen and I am a sophomore defender at Wake Forest University. We have had a great regular season and have continued to do well in the postseason. The NCAAs so far have been a lot of fun for all of us and we have been playing some of our best soccer. Every game has given us another chance to prove that we can compete as one of the top teams in the country. We are very excited to be this far, but we aren’t content with ending our season here. 

We were asked to discuss what we were thankful for, and that got us thinking, there are so many things we are thankful for: food, soccer, sleep, free time. But then I thought, besides all those things there are so many people who have helped us get to where we are today, and without them we wouldn’t be as good as we are.  

We are so thankful for the Wake Forest community, students, and teachers who support us on and off the field. And of course all our fellow athletes who come to all our games and make it miserable for other teams with all their cheering. We are also thankful for all the alumni and trustees of Wake Forest who provide us with the opportunity to go out and play the sport we love every day. 

We are thankful for the athletic department, equipment staff and managers (Kahlie, Lauren, Gersen and Jeremy) and our weight-training staff, Kelly Zarski, Bearded Brian, Chris and Dave. We are thankful for all the athletic trainers who allow us to be in the training room even though sometimes we are a little loud, and especially our own athletic trainer Heather Wong. We are thankful for media relations and Alex Botoman who “twitterbombs” our every move, and our academic advisors, especially Sherry Long. And last but not least we are thankful for our coaches Tony da Luz, Tim Santoro, and Megan Jesse, who devote a lot of their time to our success and have to put up with us and our pranks on a daily basis. 

This year for Thanksgiving we were also thankful because we went to our head coach, Tony Da Luz’s, house. He, his wife and son graciously invited us to crash their house for a festive dinner, although afterwards they might have regretted ever letting 30 people into their home. We were all excited for what we thought was going to be a great feast ... until we found out we had to make our own side dishes for dinner. It’s safe to say that we were no longer too thrilled.

Courtney Owen A 250

However, it turns out that it is easy to convince 26 competitive Division I athletes to cook dinner simply by putting them into teams and telling them that the winner gets a prize. And that is how the First Annual Wake Forest Iron Chef Competition began. Teams set, groceries bought, and two hours to prepare for dinner – it was mass chaos. And with 30 minutes left until dinner, it seemed like there might not actually be food, considering that the stuffing had ended up on the floor the night before, and the mashed potatoes were, well, interesting to say the least. 

However, since we had become master chefs overnight, we all came through and everything was perfect, especially the green bean casserole if I do say so myself. And after dinner and a few people’s afternoon snoozes, the judges convened and gave first prize to the sweet potato casserole team. Although the judges were biased and there was clearly some bribery going on, since the green bean casserole did not win. It was a great first Iron Chef Competition, and hopefully a tradition that we can continue on into the future. 

With full stomachs and newfound cooking skills, we are very excited for Friday’s game vs. UCF. So far, having home field advantage has been really helpful because we can get all our fans to come out and cheer us on. Friday is an important game for us because we want to get to the College Cup, and it will be a tough game because we are going to face a good opponent who wants to win just as badly. The key to winning will be playing our game and fighting for all 90 minutes of the game. We know that we have a tough road ahead but we are ready for the challenge.

– Courtney Owen

 editor@collegesoccer360.com