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From Mount Rainier to the Chesapeake Bay

Oct. 20, 2011

By Matt Muzza
Navy Sports Information

The Navy women's soccer program has always prided itself on recruiting players from all over the United States. In just 19 seasons as a varsity program, Navy has already seen 36 different states represented on its rosters over the years.

States such as Florida, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia and have usually been some of the better represented areas, but the 2011 squad has put a new state on the map, and one that is nearly 3,000 miles away: Washington.

Senior defender Kate Herren, junior defender Kelsey Learned and sophomore forward Hannah Morse all hail from Auburn, Wash., a suburb just south of Seattle. Sophomore starting goalkeeper Alexes Lopez-Shaw is from Bothell, which is also a part of the Seattle metropolitan area. Additionally, freshman forward Sam Lee is from Richland, a city that is about three-and-a-half hours southeast of Seattle.

From left: Hannah Morse, Kelsey Learned, Alexes Lopez-Shaw, Sam Lee and Kate Herren
Head coach Carin Gabarra and associate head coach Rob Blanck do not focus solely on one region or state to attract players, but instead recruit nationally. However, Gabarra has seen the shift of the makeup of a roster from year to year during her tenure and has seen representation from different areas rise and fall.

"Some of it starts from word of mouth," said Gabarra of the process of increasing a presence in an area. "If there is another player from your area or club that goes to a certain college, you know it. A lot of times we will get one player from an area and then the ones that are little younger will start to look into it."

Gabarra's theory certainly holds true for the current influx of talent from the Mount Rainier area. When Herren arrived at Navy, there hadn't been a letterwinner from Washington since 2003. Now just a couple years later, there are more players from Washington than any other state on the team. Prior to the current quintet of Washingtonians, there had only been three players from the state dating back to Navy's first year of women's soccer in 1993.

Although some may think it would be difficult to leave home for a school that is nearly 3,000 miles away. The players have each adjusted well to being so far away from family and friends. They have bonded with all of their teammates, with those from their home state and those who are not, to make the most out of their time on the banks of the Chesapeake Bay. However, it is surely beneficial to be able to share a common home state with a number of teammates.

"It's nice to bring that little bit of home with you across the country," Learned said. "Especially with the stressful lives we live at the Academy. Just being able to talk about the teams back home we used to play against, or bring up something about Seattle, or share some Puyallup Fair Scones can really help."

The Puyallup Fair Scones, a staple of one of the biggest state fairs in the country, is always a big hit when a family member sends them to Bancroft Hall to give the players a unique taste of home.

The players are able to lean on each other in times of need while at the Academy, but in at least one instance, they have also been able to reach out to one another to calm some nerves back in Washington.

Before Lee, the youngest of the group, left Washington for plebe summer, she received a well-timed visit from Herren, the 2011 team captain and elder Washington native.

"Kate came to one of my soccer practices and talked to me and just gave me some advice," said Lee. "I was really nervous going into plebe summer so it was good to talk to her."

"I just tried to explain to her how things work and that eventually soccer will start and it will be your relief and your escape from being a plebe," said Herren of her outreach.

Although not all the players knew each other before coming to Navy, some were familiar with each other's high school and club teams. Herren and Morse share a special connection, as Morse has been the best friend of Herren's younger sister, Kristin, since kindergarten. Herren, her younger sister and Morse all played on the same high school team during the older Herren's senior year.

"They are far away from home and at a different institution that has a lot of demands," said Gabarra. "To know someone and have a confidant before coming in is very helpful and can be a comforting thing."

Four of the players also had a military background in their family that helped lead them to the Naval Academy. Herren's grandfather was a Naval officer, Lopez-Shaw's father is in the Marine Corps and Morse's brother and Lee's father are both Naval Academy graduates.

The five players from Washington make up just a small, but important, piece of the overall roster. Navy has 29 players on the 2011 squad, with 13 different states being represented. Florida is the next highest represented state with four players and Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia boast three Mids each.

"It's great for us to be well-rounded and have players from all different states," Gabarra said. "That is something we've always had pride in. What's really unique about our team is that they all come in and work together and do so well together with the concept of team. They all mold so well together and they come from all different states, cultures, backgrounds and ethnicities and it's a really special thing."

It should come as no surprise that players from Washington are appearing more on collegiate rosters, as the Pacific Northwest has always been a place where soccer has flourished. When Gabarra's U.S. National Team won the 1991 World Cup in China, three of her teammates were from the Seattle area (Michelle Akers, Shannon Higgins-Cirovski and Amy Allman).

There are also three Major League Soccer franchises in the area: Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps. The Sounders have led the MLS in attendance in each of the past three seasons and has one of the most enthusiastic fan bases in the United States.

"Our MLS teams are a really big deal," said Morse. "It's fun to go out and watch the games now because I never really got to do that as a kid. It really does promote soccer in the area and it makes younger kids want to come out and play."

Additionally, the University of Washington is a consistent powerhouse in women's soccer and produced arguably the most popular women's player in the country in goalkeeper Hope Solo. Solo graduated from the same high school as Lee (Richland) and regularly came back to give talks and offer advice to Lee and her scholastic teammates. Solo rose to fame with her play in helping the United States to a second-place finish at the 2011 Women's World Cup.

"I think for a long time the area was being overlooked in soccer," said Herren. "But we really do produce great players from Washington. I think its great for the state to show that we have athletes that can play at any level."

One of the more difficult things for the players to adjust to is the distance between Maryland and Washington. In the continental United States, Washington is the farthest state away from Maryland. Unlike some of their classmates at the Academy, it is difficult for the players to go home for a weekend.

One tactic for the Washington natives to get back to their home state is constant pleading with Gabarra to put a road game against a Washington school on the schedule.

"We've been begging her to let us go play the University of Washington or Seattle," Lopez-Shaw shared with a laugh.

Whether or not a Navy at Washington game is on the horizon, it is apparent that Gabarra has been more than pleased with the play of the Washington natives.

"They have all been very successful and very coachable," Gabarra said. "They have proven to be good leaders and truly quality individuals. We'd love to keep this tradition going."

Navy (9-5-3, 1-2-1 PL) will host Army (9-2-4, 2-0-2 PL) in the annual Star Game on Friday at 7:00 PM at the Glenn Warner Soccer Facility.



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