BLOG: Katie Stengel's Australian Adventure Continues

(Nov. 20, 2017)

Hey there,

It's me, over yonder, down unda. After speaking to my grandmother, I have come to the conclusion that it's about time I show my less sarcastic, more serious side. So here's my honest-to-goodness take on the incredible opportunity I've been given to play soccer over in Newcastle.

Many NWSL players find the offseason as a chance to catch up with family and friends. They enjoy the holidays amongst their loved ones or get to explore some exotic destination during their down time. However, most of us get antsy with so much “off time.” This isn't to say we take all five months and sit on our butts. We spend time working on our weaknesses, developing in the gym, focus on technical improvements, and get in as much playing time as we can. But there is only so much you can do on your own or with the small groups that get together across the country. It's quite difficult to maintain game fitness because no matter how many 120s you do, there's no replacement for the demands of a 90-minute game. So most of us seek other leagues to play in to supplement our NWSL season. This way we promise ourselves to come back ready for preseason in the best physical and mental state. While many girls still find ways to prepare for the next season, I find it easiest to jet off to Australia.

The NWSL and W-League run opposite each other, allowing athletes to seamlessly transition from one season to the next. Australia also promises much warmer weather since the league runs during the summer. Other pros include but are not limited to: gorgeous beaches, friendly people, English speakers, and the chance to explore a unique country.

Once Boston's season finished, I gathered my things and headed home to spend much-needed time with family. In order to make up for time I'd soon miss over the holidays while abroad, my family all managed to hang out in Colorado for a few days. We celebrated Halloween one night with pumpkin carving and dressing up in my Eeyore onesie. Then, Thanksgiving was the next day, so we enjoyed cooking all day, hiking, then stuffing our faces (I mean the turkey), and being thankful for the time together. The next day was our Christmas, and it just so happened to snow, so for the first time in 25 years I had a white Christmas. My cousins, dog, and I all had snowball fights, took family photos, and made a gingerbread house. Finally, according to tradition, the adults are supposed to escape and enjoy one single glass of champagne to ring in the new year. So, that night, we made it to a Mexican restaurant to share a margarita and taco (seemed just like those NYC ball dropping parties!). I could not have imagined a better HalloThanksMas with my family before I boarded my first of three long flights over to Australia.

Being here means so much to me. I've been given the chance to not only train, but compete with some amazing teammates in Newcastle. We have intense field sessions on Tuesday and Wednesdays with a heavy emphasis on possession and transition play. Then a random day off in the middle of the week allows for recovery time so I found a great yoga studio with classes that help me maintain flexibility and mental clarity. We also have 2-3 gym sessions each week so we can hold a certain level of strength, power, and agility. Friday and Saturday are typically pregame preparation trainings where we focus on the specific expectations of the game that given weekend. Gameday comes and goes way too quickly, but it is always the highlight of the week. The league here has proven to be extremely competitive because the table has flipped from last year and anyone can win each game. It's fun to enter the game as the underdog one round and then the very next you may be favored to win. It definitely keeps you on your toes.

Each time someone from home asks me how 'Stralia has been treating me I instinctually respond that I love it. Getting the chance to train in an organized environment where I can push myself in the gym, on the field, and fitness wise, has been a Godsend. I've been granted a chance to play the game I love year-round. It doesn't get much better than that. Of course the sacrifices are there because I do miss my family and friends everyday. There are days when I think too much and wonder, is it worth it? Wouldn't it just be easier to get a normal person job and be in one location for more than three months? Wouldn't it be less stressful to have some kind of stability and a friend circle that wasn't separated by over 17 different time zones? The answer may be yes on a few days. But I always come back to this love for the game. Growing up, I fell in love with soccer when I entered my first real tournament in Melbourne, Florida. You all arrive at about 6 a.m. Saturday morning with orange slices, colored hair spray, a cooler full of water bottles, and in my dad's case he always had his sunscreen, umbrella, lawn chair, and bag of soccer balls. We would play about five games over the course of the weekend and we'd fight for a chance to play an extra championship one. When you look around and see your best friends covered in sweat, with their oversized shin guards, sweet spots, scrunchies (I fully support bringing this trend back!), and cleats covered in grass and mud, you know this is will be one of the best weekends of your childhood. The camaraderie was built in between games when you watched the latest disney movie or all rushed to Subway to get some kind of fuel in ya, but left with that unmistakable smell. You bonded over this game where you each worked on your own individual skills, but had to come together and pass, move, and support each other in order to succeed. That feeling when your hard work paid off, you held up the trophy, and got to pose for what would have been an insta-worthy shot, will never be matched.

From that moment on, I loved any chance I could get to spend with a soccer ball, my friends, and an open field. As the game has evolved, there's more of an emphasis on the physical side of the game, the mental preparation, and the tactical awareness. Therefore, it is a job that I work day in and day out to perform at my best potential. But at the end of the day, the joy has to be there. It has to be a source of happiness despite the outcome, despite the upsets, despite the days where your touch is just so off. When that day comes, the boots can be hung up. But until then, I am grateful for each chance I get to compete and try to become the best player I possibly can. I think that's my motivation. To play for the little girl who fell in love and never looked back. I've made so many memories, friendships, and trips because of this game and I couldn't think of any better way to be living right now.

So, playing in Australia is not only 12 more games to learn and grow; it is a chance to continue this dream. Just last week we got to play across the world-in Melbourne, Australia against one of the best clubs in this competition. While we may have lost, I learned from some of the best players; I remember that feeling at halftime when you think you're tired, but one look at your teammates is enough to catch your second wind and work that much harder for them; and I enjoyed one more Sunday game with friends by my side and family supporting me from a distance. This game is still my reason for working my butt off. It's still the best part of my day. It's still the place where I feel at home-no matter my geographic location. It's still worth every sacrifice, every hardship, and every stressful thought. Deep down, I'm still that eight-year-old looking forward for her next chance to play!

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