Women’s soccer team motivated by pure love

I arrive at women’s head soccer coach Michael Shenigo’s office several minutes early to find him listening to an oldie-but-goodie whose name escapes me at the moment. While he ushers me in, I hate to intrude on the few minutes of free time he probably has had all day.

With one quick scan of his surroundings I notice empty lunch containers and his tact for simultaneously manning an overflowing email queue and vibrating phone while preparing for a game that is only hours away.

“I think the dedication and the work ethic is there … if we continue to work hard and continue to do the little things we need to do … wins will come,”  Shenigo confides in me. It is at this moment that I realize that all the electronic commotion around him has stopped and an athlete speaks to me from behind that desk.

Shenigo ‘08, a three-year soccer letter winner at fellow Old Dominion Athletic Conference member Lynchburg, is entering his third year as the Quakers head coach. He has participated in five NCAA Division III women’s soccer tournaments along with an extensive list of other accolades. And yet we speak of none of these things except for his nonchalant mention that he played soccer in college.

On the way to the Alumni Gym to meet Shenigo, I had noticed some of whom I assumed to be the women’s soccer team on the field. This time of year is not the most forgiving in North Carolina, especially between the hours of noon and 3 p.m.

Like Shenigo, dedicated athletes are practicing individually on the field and similar to his office, I now find there is no one in the stands to cheer on their self-imposed practice before the big game.

Nor are they looking for anyone to be.

Mia Hamm said it best: “The vision of a champion is bent over, drenched in sweat, at the point of exhaustion, when nobody else is looking.”

That evening the Quakers went on to achieve a 3–0 win against William Peace College.

In every sport there comes a moment when an athlete shows you why they play the game. They are not playing against the opposing team or performing for fans. Despite whatever their circumstances may be, they would still be standing on someone’s field.

In the competition against Wesleyan College (Ga.) that took place early Sunday afternoon, this moment of revelation happened in the last three minutes of the game.

“Three minutes left, keep working,” comes from the direction of sophomore defender Emily Vaughn.

“I play soccer because I love the game and it feels great to play the game,” says junior midfielder Maddi Carpenter. “I love being active and on a team with set goals.”

“Two minutes guys!” Wesleyan Coach Paige Hightower yells out onto the field.

“I play because I love this sport and because I wanted to stay grounded and disciplined and make lasting relationships”, says senior forward Kelli Uresti.

Less than 40 seconds taunt the scoreboard.

“Soccer has a lot of components such as teamwork and adaptability that also contributes to things outside of soccer such as school work, work and friendships,” says first year forward Juliana Evans-Anfom.

The match is over. The game ends in a double overtime tie; however, the score matters not. We were all there for the sport.

“I play soccer because I love the game. It has helped me through the tough times in my life,” says sophomore midfielder Morgan Henderson. “I play for memaw.”

I watch as the teams filed off the field and I was left with the words of Coach Shenigo regarding how he prepares his team for the next competition.

“Celebrate that achievement,” says Shenigo. “Move on (from this game) and mentally prepare for the next challenge.”

Within the past week the women’s soccer team has played three games. With each game they have brought nothing less than their love for the sport out onto the field for the masses to see.

Those of us who have attended these games have been privileged to bear witness to those moments in time when the athlete becomes one with the sport that they lay it all out on the line for.

Sure, you can try to relive these moments in a photograph that those of us reporting may have been lucky enough to catch — or you can join our fellow Quakers out there by showing up in the stands, basking in the welcoming North Carolina weather.

I’ll save you a seat.