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Rachel Quondolo

Rachel Quon doesn’t lack for confidence. The rising sophomore at Stanford University is pretty much unflappable, whether it be on the field battling opposing attackers for the USA’s youth Women’s National Teams or off the field where her dry wit and sense of humor always keeps her teammates laughing.

But while watching the USA at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa this summer, she did get a bit of a confidence boost in the form of U.S. right back Steve Cherundolo.

The U.S. veteran had an excellent tournament running the right flank while defending with grit and gusto, qualities that impressed Quon. But what she also noticed was his size. Cherundolo is listed at 5-foot-6 and is constantly going up against opponents quite a bit taller. Quon checks in at 5-foot-3, a good three-to-four inches shorter than most of players she’ll face.

While watching all the U.S. games, she saw how Cherundolo could not only compete, but also dominate his position, and as the starting right back for the USA in the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup, that’s her goal as well.

“Starting in the England game, he just stuck out to me,” said Quon. “Throughout the whole tournament, he was just consistent and always a presence in the game. He defends his position very well, is really brave and fast, and obviously he got forward to help out the attack.”

Quon played every minute of five matches at the 2008 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in New Zealand two years ago, and although she got a slow start to her U-20 career, her calmness on the ball and tenacious defending eventually won her the starting spot at right back.

She’s played every minute of the USA’s three group matches at the U-20 Women’s World Cup in Germany and despite her slight frame, opponents have once again found it difficult to get around her.

“I think I read the game well,” said Quon. “I feel like I’m pretty quick and pretty good at anticipating players’ movements. Then I’m quick in my decisions and usually it works out for the better. When we have the ball, I always try to possess the ball and keep it simple. When we play simple, it calms everyone down and our attacks are more efficient.”

Quon started all 24 games she played as a freshman for Stanford last season, something that even surprised her a little bit.

“I wasn’t expecting to start,” said Quon. “Going into pre-season I knew I had to earn my spot and I just didn’t think I’d start right away, especially with the team getting to the Final Four the year before and with both outside backs being seniors.”

But one of those players was moved into the middle and Quon slotted in at right back where she helped the team to an undefeated run to the NCAA championship game. Better yet, Stanford’s style of play and willingness to get outside backs into the attack fit her perfectly.

“It was definitely a big step up from club, especially with our team, but I was really happy that we played such good soccer,” said Quon. “It wasn’t the typical kick and run college soccer. We possessed the ball very well and attacked with a nice style which was just a lot of fun.”

Quon obviously adapted quickly to college soccer, which can be rough and tumble at times, but the physical part of the game has never seemed to bother her. Her tackling – when she has to tackle and it’s rare due to her superior defensive savvy – does indeed pack a punch.

“I feel like most of defense is mental attitude,” said Quon. “If you don’t want them to get by you, they are not going to. Sometimes as a soccer player it might not be your day and you might be a little off, but you can always still put in 110 percent work rate. That’s what our women’s and men’s national teams are known for. We always work hard.”

Quon considers herself a leader by example rather than voice, but has also felt her maturity and leadership progress over the past few years and even through the group games here in Germany. She also saw how Cherundolo was able to impact the game through his play and leadership from right back and she’s ready to take on that role as well.

“I think I’ve grown in this experience just in these three games,” said Quon. “We have a captain, but everyone has the same responsibility to be a leader and each individual has their own way of leading each other. That is one of our strengths and I think one of the reasons our men did so well in the World Cup.”

During the World Cup, Quon did a Google search and pulled up Cherundolo’s Wikipedia page. Among other interesting facts, she found out that he was born in Rockford, Ill. That’s just 90 minutes from Quon’s hometown of Lake Forest.

Seems if you are looking for a right back, you might want to head to northern Illinois.