One of the first things fans do when they arrive at a U.S. Women’s National Team practice is spot their favorite players.
"Brandi is over there."
"Julie is taking shots on goal."
They rattle off names of the U.S. Women’s National Team like they named the players themselves. Then there’s a bit of a pause and an uncertainty in their voices as they scan the rest of the field.
"Which one is the college girl?"
"Is that Bivens?
"Who’s that in the ponytail?"
"They all have ponytails!"
The American sports fan knows the faces of Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, Julie Foudy, Briana Scurry and the rest of the U.S. women who were splashed all over the sporting news during the summer of 1999, but four years later they are getting to know a new generation of players.
Some of freshest faces are Cat, Kylie, Shannon, Angela, Abby and Aly. All young. All talented. And all named by U.S. Women’s National Team head coach April Heinrichs to compete in their first world championship tournament.
While the U.S. roster is loaded with numerous players who have Women’s World Cup and Olympic experience, these six newcomers will be looking to make an impact for the first time on a big stage. And it’s just possible that by the end of the tournament, young kids will be calling their names. In fact, they’ve already started.
"That’s Cat. I saw her play at UNC. She’s tackles hard."
"That’s Aly. Did you see her goal against Costa Rica a few weeks ago?"
Getting the Call
On August 24, all six found out that they would be a part of the 2003 U.S. Women’s World Cup Team. It was a day they won’t forget. All of the women, except for Shannon Boxx, had been a part of training camps, matches and tournaments before. But this time it was different. They were going to the Women’s World Cup.
For defender Kylie Bivens, who had just seven caps when she was named to the team, it was part of a roller coaster day of emotions.
"We had just come off losing the Founders Cup to the Washington Freedom, so I wasn’t in a very good mood," said Bivens of her mental state when she received a cell phone call from Heinrichs. That would change in an instant.
"I was actually at a sports bar with my teammates when I got the call. I went outside to talk and I couldn’t believe it," she said. "I thought for a moment that it was some kind of a joke. When April told me I said, ‘Are you serious? You’re kidding me, right? I was really excited and screamed by myself on the street and went back inside."
Forward Abby Wambach was just as excited to get the news, but her day was an emotional roller coaster of a different sort. More like an emotional rocket. Hours earlier she had scored both goals to lead the Freedom over Biven’s Atlanta Beat, 2-1.
"It was just one of those days you’re never going to forget," Wambach said. "I was like, ’could this day get any better?’"
A Dream Come True
While getting named to the team might been a surprise to some of players, it definitely wasn’t something these women hadn’t dreamed about before.
Cat Reddick, a 21-year-old University of North Carolina senior, said she didn’t know much about the national team in the early 90’s because there wasn’t much media coverage on the team – especially in her hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. But, during the 1996 Olympics she got the chance to go see the many of her current teammates play and it changed her life forever.
"When I saw them win the gold medal and stand up on the podium, and I knew I wanted to be there one day," said the 5-foot-5 defender. "You have to dream big, and at times I thought that it was a dream that would just stay a dream and wouldn’t actually come true. Now that I’m here and it is actually coming true, it’s just absolutely amazing."
Similar to Reddick, midfielder Aly Wagner didn’t know much about the national team while growing up in San Jose, California, just that Brandi Chastain, another San Jose local, was on it, and that Brandi was her idol. When she watched Chastain and the U.S. play, she knew getting to that pinnacle would be her top priority.
"I had no concept of what it was going to take, but I knew I wanted to be there," said Wagner, who has 47 caps heading into the Women’s World Cup. "But it was one of my dreams. I remember watching the USA-Germany game in the 1999 Women’s World Cup while I was jumping rope in my living room and I said to myself, ‘I’m going to be there next time.’"
Fitting into the Team
All young player coming into the national team have an adjustment period, a nerve-wracking first training camp in which you are no longer watching your heroes on TV, you are standing next to them. Reddick was no different.
"I remember going to the airport and almost breaking down in tears I was so scared," she said. "I was so nervous and didn’t know if the girls were going to like me."
After meeting the players she realized she had nothing to worry about. She was going to be just fine with an inclusive group of veteran players who welcome the youngsters into the national team family right away.
"There really isn’t that much of a gap," Reddick said. "The only gap for me is when I’m doing school work, while they are watching movies or reading books they want to read. Then I’m in my room opening up the Intro to Criminology."
Reddick found they had similar tastes as well.
"The music they listen to is about the same as mine," Reddick said. "I’ve made a mix and they just love it. They are young at heart and you can really tell that."
While getting along with the veterans off the field is often an easy transition, getting used to the speed and quality of play is another story. But it’s a challenge that all the young players enjoy.
"It’s awesome," said Angela Hucles, who broke into the national team in 2002. "I’ve looked up to them for many years and wanted to be in their shoes. Being able to play with them an experience I will always have with me. Sometimes I still pinch myself when I’m huddled up with them and I look around at all these amazing players."
Reddick, the youngest player on the Women’s World Cup Team and the only amateur, admitted that being on the practice field everyday with the legends of her sport is still a bit surreal.
"You might have a Brandi on your right and a Mia right in front of you and you’re like, ‘Oh, my goodness, look who I’m in between right now,’" she said. "I play on the same team with these women who have been here so long, and I have to pinch myself now and then."
Making the most of the opportunity
All the women realize that once they get on the field, it doesn’t matter who they are lined up with or against. It’s then about performing and showing that they can compete at the highest level.
"Regardless of my age or my experience, I always put pressure on myself to make an impact," said Wagner, who has 12 international goals. "You’re not out here to just hang on and stay with the team, you are here to get better."
And that’s the key. It is the goal of these players to not only have success in this Women’s World Cup, but to make the Olympic roster in 2004 and the next Women’s World Cup roster after that. They all strive to stay at the top level for years to come and to find out the best way to accomplish those goals they need to look no father than the women on the field next to them.
"The (veteran players) have set standards and a tradition that is like nothing else," said Wambach, who has nine goals in just 14 international matches. "The pride that these women have about achieving success and loving every single minute of it is amazing."
So with a tremendous respect for the past, and the present, the new names head into the 2003 Women’s World Cup with unbridled excitement and legendary role models to lead the way. Soon, everyone will be calling their names.