Good Sports: She's Our Hero
Published Oct 1, 2011 12:00 AM
In a you'll-always-remember-where-you-were moment, the U.S.A.'s Abby Wambach received a cross from Megan Rapinoe and drilled a header past the Brazilian goalie in the last seconds of overtime, tying the 2011 World Cup quarterfinals match at two goals apiece.
Wambach's frontline running mate Lauren Cheney '11 remembers exactly where she was:
"I had been taken out in the 70th minute and was sitting on the bench. The girls were sitting there, hitting each other, praying we were going to win," Cheney says. "Then (Rapinoe's) cross came, Abby scored and we erupted. At that moment, I knew we were going to win."
They did, beating Brazil on penalty kicks and advancing to the semifinals against France. In the 3-1 victory over the French, Cheney played her best individual match, scoring the first goal and assisting on another. Alas, in a three-week World Cup where goals seemed elusive, the U.S. National Team came up one goal short — falling to an inspired Japanese squad, 2-2, 3-1 on penalty kicks.
Despite the result, the U.S. women returned from Germany as heroes, their nail-biting run a testament to John Wooden's definition of success. As a Bruin, Cheney is well-versed in Coach's idea that success is rooted in maximum effort, not a final score, but she still has trouble reconciling.
"As an athlete, it's hard to feel successful when you lose," says Cheney, who has returned to the Women's Professional Soccer League's Boston Breakers. "That isn't the first reaction. But after coming back, talking to so many people, seeing 15,000 fans at the Rochester game and knowing we really impacted people, we can look at it as a success."
Those impacted include Oscar winner Tom Hanks and Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers, two among thousands who tweeted their support and admiration during the Cup run. "A man in Indiana paid for my meal and told me I was a hero, [but] I actually don't feel like a hero," Cheney protests. "Soldiers fighting for our country are heroes. But our team represented in a way that led people to call us heroes; that's pretty flattering."
Cheney, who was not shy about tweeting about her love for her boyfriend, former Bruin and now Philadelphia 76er Jrue Holiday, joined the national team in the midst of her record-breaking UCLA career, getting reserve minutes during the gold medal 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. She still considered herself a bench player heading into the World Cup, but played her way into Coach Pia Sundhage's starting line-up. At age 23, she should be a fixture on the national team for years to come. Still, Cheney's a winner — and her bright future does not dull the frustration of falling short in Germany.
"There's a buzz around our team, we're getting recognized, but that's a constant reminder that we didn't win. That's my competitive side," she says. "But we have to move on. As a team, we're looking forward to the [2012 London] Olympics. We want to perform and make our nation proud."
Photos on this page courtesy of Thomas Eisenhuth/isiphotos.com. Homepage photo courtesy of Scott Chandler.