By Kelly Kultys
“Honestly I was doubtful; I don’t know if we’re good enough,” admitted Erica DePalma, FCRH ’15, one of the captains of the women’s club soccer team.
It was the end of October and the team was faced with a tough choice just before they began their regionals, the final competition of its regular season. The club soccer team put together an impressive 12-2 year and earned themselves enough points in the power rankings to qualify for Nationals.
Jackie Gawne, FCRH ’15, president of the club soccer team, however, challenged her co-captain’s disbelief.
“[Deciding to go] was mainly because of Jackie’s passion for it because a lot of us were hesitant, but she was like, ‘No we’re doing this’,” DePalma said. “We have the ability to do this.”
“The first time I knew we were in it to win it and we were going to go places was our second game against Lehigh and Lehigh was up 3-2 and we ended up winning 4-3,” Gawne recalled. “I thought then ‘this team is a fighter.’”
Gawne was right. The team was good enough to compete on the national stage. They were able to earn a wild card spot into the quarterfinals, despite an early loss to Virginia Tech. Once in the quarterfinals, the team came together and took down San Diego State 3-1 before falling to Michigan, the national champion, 3-0 in the semifinals.
Their success shocked many, even their opponents in Nationals.
“‘It’s so nice to see fresh faces,’ the teams at Nationals told us this, because it’s always the same four every year,” Gawne said. “We were the wild card and they were like, ‘We’ve never heard of you before, congrats for getting here’.”
DePalma echoed her thoughts: “We were the last school left in our region. We were a tiny school competing with the University of Michigan.”
The two smiled as they remembered the trip from a few weeks back, comparing it to the ups-and-downs of their high school playing days.
But for Gawne and DePalma, as well as fellow senior captain Maggie Abella, FCRH’15, the journey on the road to get to nationals was not an easy path. For starters, they had to come up with $13,000 to get their players to Nationals, held this year in Memphis, Tennessee.
“We all were like we’re either doing this 100 percent or we’re not doing this at all,” DePalma said.
The team was able to fundraise a majority of the money, with about half coming from the support of players’ parents and families. Other efforts, like a t-shirt sale, helped bring them close to their goal, though they are still in the process of getting the last bit of money from the university.
“It’s almost disappointing because how do you win a sportsmanship award, finish seveth overall in the nation, third in your open division and not get recognized,” Gawne said.
For Gawne and her team, this is just one of the ongoing problems for a club team that has been in existence for only five years. The first season, a year prior to when the captain began at Fordham, the team was created and underwent its probationary period in which it was allowed to play games to work its way into the league, but none counted. The club soccer team officially began in 2011 and has hit some bumps along the way. Gawne recalled the team having a solid season in her sophomore year before it unraveled a bit.
“Our junior year it was just bad. We didn’t make it to regionals. We didn’t win that many games,” Gawne said.
“The leadership just kind of fell apart,” DePalma added.
That was one of the driving forces that made Gawne and DePalma want to take the team in a better direction this year. The other, according to DePalma was the “freshmen girls that had raw talent and the desire to play.” Gawne said the veterans on the team “knew that they were the future” and wanted to welcome them in properly.
“I know as a freshman I considered transferring, and club soccer was my home,” Gawne recalled. “This is what kept me here and I wanted to make sure the girls who came on as freshmen, we wanted to make them feel like they have a base.”
DePalma said that he team even encountered a similar situation this year as their top scorer Lauren Regan, FCRH 18, found herself in the same spot as Gawne was a few years prior.
Her teammates were thrilled she stayed, as she became a main reason for their success.
“Key players do that — they bring a team together, which is something people aren’t aware of. We are a team, but there’s definitely people…people that lift you up, and [Reagan’s] one of them,” DePalma said.
Despite this shift in attitude and their success, many at the university did not believe the national-qualifying team was for real. They had to convince those, such as Michael Roberts, the assistant athletic director for club and intramural sports, that they could be taken seriously.
“Mike Roberts told us ‘you proved me wrong,’” Gawne said. “He was hesitant because we never really gave him a reason to believe in us in years past.
But this year Gawne, DePalma and Abella devised a path for success. They worked around their players’ busy schedules and created a three day a week practice schedule with two days mandatory to give their team members some flexibility. The team competed and traveled primarily on the weekends, squeezing in a few weekend round-robin tournaments as well. But, according to the captains, the pretty demanding schedule ultimately helped bring the team closer.
“Playing a sport, especially soccer for us, you forget about everything, like when you’re playing you’re thinking about the game, and I think a lot of us needed that,” DePalma said.
However, with the fall season drawing to a close, Gawne hopes her organization will be remembered for more than just a Cinderella run at nationals.
“I’m proud of what we built,” she said. “It’s a club that allows you to do whatever you want — you can be in Satin Dolls, you can have an internship at a major network, you can be an environmental scientist. It’s teaching women that they can have it all — not just one or the other.”