October 3, 2008

Utility-Man Yonga Lives to Serve

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Senior co-captain Joe Yonga has perfected a certain style of leadership, an expansion on the idea of leading by example. Yonga does everything and goes everywhere, trying to show his teammates the way in all aspects of the game.
The self-described jack-of-all-trades came to Cornell as a center midfielder. After coming off the bench in the first two games his freshman year, he has started every game since.
And as the former Bio major has exchanged that field for Economics, circumstances have moved Yonga to the backfield — where he serves as the Red’s defensive anchor.
“Last year as a junior, I played center back,” he said. “So this year I was seen as a defensive leader, as someone we wanted to have hold down the center [of the back] line rather than starting over with a whole new back line.”
The strategy gives Cornell the advantage of having a 6-1 offensive weapon waiting to streak up from the backfield — Yonga is the Red’s leading goal-scorer in 2008.
He got the game-winner at Lafayette Sept. 21, securing the team’s only victory of the season, a week after heading home a corner kick in a 2-1 loss to the University of New Hampshire for his first collegiate score.
“[That first goal] was really late in the game against New Hampshire,” Yonga said. “We were down 2-0, and I just remember being so exhausted, there was no energy left for me to react. … I didn’t want to graduate without scoring a goal, but it was pretty uneventful.”
In general, Yonga doesn’t try to be flashy. The Minnesota native has been playing since the age of six, introduced to the game by supportive parents.
In 2007, Yonga was carrying much of the defensive workload and was on track for his most productive season to date when a stress fracture that he wasn’t even aware he had suddenly turned into something much worse.
Yonga broke his right foot in the Red’s 2-1 double overtime loss at Penn St., ending his season with much of the Ivy schedule still to come.
“It wasn’t too dramatic,” he said. “I stepped with my right foot to try and go backwards [to where the ball was played], and … I just kind of stepped wrong.”
After a spring and summer of rehab, Yonga is again enjoying the individual success of last year. And if it’ll help the team, he feels he “definitely” has a few more goals left in him.