October 3, 2008

Take Me Home, I Don’t Remember

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There are three freshmen on the women’s soccer team — forward Brook Chang and midfielders Abigail Apistolas and Kelsey MacDonald — who don’t seem to have much in common when you first take a look at their playing styles.
“The three of them are very different players,” said head coach Danielle LaRoche. “Brook is an attacking minded player. She loves to go at defenders. She loves to take them one-to-one. She is a natural goal-scorer.”
“Abigail is more of a distributor,” LaRoche continued, describing the two midfielders. “Her real strength is setting people up with passes. And Kelsey, being the stature that she is [5-0], she’s more of a juggernaut where she’s buzzing all over the field and trying to make things happen, and she’s just relentless in her pace and her activity. Her work ethic and her activity really set her apart from Abigail and Brook.”
It seems they have only two things in common. First, they have the skillz. (They get a ‘z’ on the skills because of just how important they are to this Red team. Chang has already scored two goals, for example, tied with two older players as Cornell’s scoring leaders.)
“All of them are pretty technically gifted,” LaRoche said, “which means they can do great things with the ball on their foot.”
Second, they grew up together. They grew up together in Northern Virginia — that hotbed of political activism, strong school systems, gang activity, the DC commuter (and the resulting ridiculous rush hour traffic) and, oh yeah, good soccer.
I was wondering how long it would take for me to be able to connect Cornell sports to my hometown over six hours south of Ithaca, and this is my first chance. Three members of the eight-person women’s soccer Class of 2012 come from that crazy place that I also call home.
“We’ve known each other for years … through soccer,” Apistolas said.
Leading their respective high schools to state titles and such, the three Cornell rookies also played for the same club team, Reston FC — developing the chemistry that marks their interactions to this day.
“When you see them on the field, they play really well together because they’ve been on a team for so long. When Brook flicks the ball, Abigail knows when to go,” said LaRoche, who has her own NoVA roots, having originally recruited the three Virginians as an assistant coach for George Mason University.
All three had told LaRoche that they wanted to move out of the Northern Virginia area, and she resumed recruiting them Memorial Day 2007 immediately after getting the job with the Red. Chang and MacDonald verbally committed in late July 2008, while Apistolas committed soon after that, according to RFC’s web site.
I remember looking in my local paper and seeing then-high school senior Brook Chang named as one of the top players in the region. The paper’s writeup ended with those magic words: “Chang plans to attend Cornell.”
As I talked with Chang and Apistolas on the bus coming back from practice Monday afternoon, I couldn’t help but feel like I was back home — just having that background in common with someone else on this thoroughly New York campus. Though MacDonald moved to the area when she was eight, she still spent her formative years in Virginia, just as Apistolas, Chang and I did.
With over five million people in the DC metropolitan area and over two million in Northern Virginia alone, in addition to my own complete lack of soccer talent, I had never met or heard of these three fellow Virginians while we all lived there.
But we did come pretty close. Several of my friends went to the elementary school they both attended. Chang and I went to the same middle school, and her cousin went to my high school.
Think about it — in a university of over 13,000 undergraduates, what are your chances of finding people from home?
I know it’s still a week away, but anticipating a third Fall Break spent in Ithaca — days of wandering through the empty campus with no one to watch October baseball with *tear* — has got me thinking about the idea of home recently. It’s not about being homesick exactly but wondering just what makes home “home” and whether we can take it with us to a new place, like college.
Home, to me, is one or a combination of the following: where we are, who we’re with, what we do.
The first two are pretty self-explanatory. They’re the reasons why we get homesick. I think that the last one, on the other hand, is the reason why professional athletes don’t go completely insane with the level of traveling they do — being away from “home” so much.
I think that we associate certain activities that we used to do before coming to Ithaca with home itself — for which sports would be a prime example. One of the things MacDonald missed most about home was her soccer team. I’ve talked to so many Cornell students over the past few years who say that the thing they miss most of all about high school is the sports, and they try to play sports as often as they can here to bring back that feeling of home.
The case of Chang, Apistolas and MacDonald is even simpler. They can feel as if they’re back in Virginia every time they see each other and/or step on the soccer field together.
Even discounting the time that Northern Virginia gridlock adds to traveling, the three teammates live closer to each other now than they did at home. Chang is in Balch, while Apistolas and MacDonald are in separate townhouses.
They see each all the time even though they are not roommates — maybe a little too much.
“We hang out with each other a lot,” Apistolas said before adding with a laugh, “Maybe we should make some new friends.”
Unlike me and the rest of the non-athletes at Cornell, the soccer players had this ready-set social group from the minute they step foot in Ithaca and even earlier. Pretty cool.
But it turns out that our relationships to home are not that different from one another. Like me, the soccer players from Virginia won’t get to go home for Fall Break, as the team will play Harvard in Boston on Saturday and then come back to Ithaca for some practices and team bonding.
All three, however, are planning to take the vacation bus down to Bethesda, Md.
“But we’re definitely going home for Thanksgiving,” Chang said with certainty.
I know the feeling.
Phil Collins might have put it best: “Take me home / cause I don’t remember.”
Of course, he was talking about a patient in a mental institution in that song, so by the analogy Cornell is just a place to stash crazies. Eh, not too far from the truth I guess. That was pretty much why the Administration invented Fall Break.