Pipsa Happo came here from Finland to earn a master’s degree in architecture. Lizzy Hearne, originally from California, studies music entertainment. Pawinee Chuayprakong is a third-year PhD student in public administration who comes from Thailand.
What do these three women have in common? They’re all players on the first-ever CU Denver Women’s Club Soccer team.
“What’s really cool about this team is the mix of people who are playing,” said Liz Feldhusen, the team’s coach. Their inaugural season opened on Aug. 31 against Air Force Academy Prep School and has included opponents such as University of Northern Colorado and Colorado Mesa University.
Women’s soccer is just one of at least seven—and possibly 12—new Club Sports teams this year in CU Denver’s growing Club Sports program, said Brett Lagerblade, hired in August as the program’s first official manager. Since Club Sports began with men’s hockey in 2011, the program has more than doubled its participants, with 400 students now active on its OrgSync site.
“The program is student-driven,” Lagerblade said. “Students recruit students to the teams, and we support them.”
For the love of the game
Three words you could use to describe CU Denver’s first-ever women’s soccer players are: diverse, scrappy and positive.
“They come from all different backgrounds and experiences, both in life and in soccer,” Feldhusen said. “They all want to be here, because they love the game.”
They love the game enough to practice in Lakewood, to play “home” games in Colorado Springs and to, sometimes, take the field short-playered. They love the game enough to play 12 soccer matches in a month-and-a-half time period during their first season—sometimes with two games in one day. Strangers to each other before this season, they love the game enough to both learn from and teach one another.
A team with heart
At their first practice, most of the women had never met. Some of them had never even stepped on a soccer field before. All of them had a common goal: to build a team.
“Finding a team was the number one on my list when I first arrived to Denver in August,” said Happo, who used to play semi-pro soccer in Finland. “I did a little research and found out about the team.”
Chuayprokong, who plays midfield, also comes from another country, but unlike Happo, she sought a new experience, not a familiar one.
“Women’s soccer is not popular at all in Thailand, so I didn’t have a chance to play there,” she said. “Since I arrived here in the U.S., I’ve been wanting to join a club sport. Upon seeing the flyer about the CU Denver women’s soccer club in spring 2013, I contacted the person in charge.”
With leadership from student and team captain Colleen Bonesteele, the Women’s Club Soccer fielded a team during the 2012-2013 school year. However, this year was the first that they had some funding and official support from a well-staffed Club Sports program.
“We get to create a foundation for future teams,” said goalkeeper Hearne, a long-time soccer player.
Feldhusen is pleased with the team’s efforts and their first season’s progress.
“As long as people are working hard, they’re very supportive of one another,” Feldhusen said. “That says a lot about them. They have heart.”
Wins optional, fun required
Their first season hasn’t been filled with wins, but no one—the players or the coach—is complaining.
“It’s only going to get better,” Feldhusen said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that the program is going to grow. CU Denver could be one of the better teams in the league.”
And that goes not just for soccer but for the entire Club Sports program.
“It isn’t how many wins there are,” Lagerblade said. “I want students to enjoy themselves and what CU Denver has to offer, to meet new friends and maybe travel a bit.”
From what the players are saying, it seems that Women’s Soccer has already met Lagerblade’s goals:
Happo: “We have a great coach and people working [for Club Sports] who have done a great deal for the team. It’s been exciting to see the team evolve a lot in a short time.”
Hearne: “Club Sports is a great way to meet people while still staying active. I have already met so many girls that I will continue to be friends with, even after the soccer season is over.”
Chuayprakong: “I am honored to be a part of the first-ever CU Denver women’s soccer team.”