“I guess I’m a pretty go-with-the-flow type of person,” says Lauren Kaskie, showing just those qualities as she relaxes – the college kids might say ‘chills’ – on a comfortable couch in a Cayman Islands hotel room, where she and her teammates on the U.S. U-20 Women’s National Team have traveled to participate in the 2014 CONCACAF Women’s U-20 Championship.
Tanned, as you would expect of a player with Italian lineage who grew up in the sunny desert of Las Vegas, and muscled but not quite stocky, the 5-foot-5 midfielder exudes an emotional calm that has benefited her greatly so far in her young career.
Despite being one of the elite youth players in the country since her mid-teens – she was a member of the USA’s 2012 U-17 Women’s World Cup squad – Kaskie has first-hand experience of how keeping a positive perspective and staying grounded can benefit an athlete.
She knows that no matter what team you are on, there are just 10 starting field player positions available. A reserve on the U-17 team at that World Cup in Azerbaijan, she played just a few minutes in the tournament but picked up an assist just one minute after coming into the game against Gambia.
As a freshman at UCLA, she once again found herself coming off the bench as part of a stacked roster with one of the best midfields in the country. She played in all 26 of the team’s matches, starting just one, and scored just once, but that was a “golden goal” on the road against Stanford, earning a 2-1 victory that signaled UCLA’s reemergence as the dominant team in the Pac-12.
Kaskie used her fine college campaign where she helped UCLA to its first NCAA title, plus a brief but impactful performance at the USA’s one post-college training camp this fall, to make the roster for Women’s World Cup qualifying despite having yet to earn a U-20 cap.
And yes, once again, at the qualifying tournament, she will likely be a reserve.
“I’ve learned to accept and embrace the role, predominately because it helps me get minutes and I enjoy being an energizer for my teammates,” said Kaskie. “My goal coming into any game is to pick up the team and try to give my best effort to make something happen. Your mindset is, ‘how can I positively enhance my teammates and the game in general?’ Yeah, I might not be a starter, but I know how to earn the minutes and utilize them to my and my teammates’ advantage.”
Kaskie admits she knew she was a long-shot to be in the Caymans. She had been in just a few U-20 camps since “graduating” from the U-17s and in fact was a late call-up to that final pre-qualifying training camp in December, arriving mid-way through the event. She participated in just one training session and played 60 minutes in an intra-squad, but that was enough for U.S. head coach Michelle French to include her on the roster.
“I’m big on my faith,” said Kaskie. “So I feel like we are given these moments to utilize our gifts and talents, and that just happened to be one of my moments. “
“She played way her way into that last camp with her college performance, and at camp she showed enough of what we were looking for, both on and off the field, to bring her into this team,” said French. “Lauren has a lot of positive qualities, whether it’s her ability to serve the ball with her left foot, her vision, her mobility or her versatility. For the last couple of roster spots we were looking for players would impact us in different positions, but also how they would gel and come in and make a difference off the field, and it’s been a seamless process with her.”
Kaskie admits that it took work to be able to wrap her arms around a reserve role but that her dad, Brian, was a big factor in helping her gain perspective as she matured as a person and player.
“My dad has instilled in me the mentality that you just have to do your best all the time and you need to be satisfied with that because the rest is out of your hands,” said Kaskie. ” In the past, I put too much thought into things. Spending energy worrying about things out of your control is a waste. He’s helped me stay level-headed and taught me how to go about things in a rational way.”
Every coach likes quality left-sided players, and Kaskie fills that role, able to serve in driven crosses from the run of play or on set plays as well as shoot from distance, as she did against Stanford during the college season. In addition, while she can be soft-spoken, she almost always wears a wide smile that contributes to team chemistry.
“It takes a really confident person with a positive attitude to be able to adjust to any role within a team,” said French. “I think you saw with Lauren, especially with UCLA at the Final Four, that she has the ability to be a good teammate and knows her role. Then you look at how great she played when she went into the game and was able to make a difference and earn even more playing time.”
That’s not to say that being a reserve is easy. Any top player used to starting and playing every minute of every game during her entire youth club career can get thrown for off a bit when she’s asked to come off the bench. But it’s something that many elite players must learn to cope with.
“I feel it’s definitely harder to be a reserve than a starter,” said Kaskie. “You have to be able to go into the game and match the intensity and energy levels while at the same time bringing it even higher to get that momentum going in a game. You’re like a shape-shifter, basically. You have to be ready to do whatever the team needs at the time you go into the match. That’s the job and that’s what I’m going to continue to do. “
UCLA doesn’t lose many seniors from their NCAA title team, so Kaskie will find herself in a battle for playing time as a sophomore as well. But that doesn’t bug her (not much does). She’ll be ready to play whatever role is asked of her.
“I’ve definitely grown from my experience at UCLA playing behind what is basically our starting midfield for our Under-23 National Team,” said Kaskie. “That doesn’t mean I’ll ever stop trying to earn a starting spot on every team I’m on, but my freshman year put me in a position to be an asset to this U-20 team and I’m going to make the most of the opportunity.”