During the past two weeks, I've become the de facto beat reporter for the Rhode Island College Anchorwomen soccer team. Post-game interviews. Training pieces. Heck, I even made a recent trip to Danbury, CT to catch their game against WestConn. In short, it's one step closer to realizing my dream: to become the Joe Posnanski of American soccer.
Of course, 90% of this is due in large part to my feature assignment for Advanced News Writing class. The other half is because I just love watching soccer, especially when the Anchorwomen are playing.
The criteria for our feature assignment was broad. A three-page piece on anyone you think is interesting, so long as he/she is not related to you. Here's the formula I used to find my subject:
Rhode Island College + soccer player = Christina Tavana
So, without further ado, here it is...
PROVIDENCE, R.I. - Three minutes.
That’s how close Christina Tavana and her Rhode Island College women’s soccer teammates were from clinching the school’s first berth to the Little East Conference Finals last November against Western Connecticut State University.
Clinging to a 2-1 lead as the 87th minute of play approached on enemy turf and amid a chilly, late-autumn evening, it appeared that the LEC Finals were well within reach. But a controversial referee’s call enabled the home team clinch to the equalizer. That promising vision of an LEC title began to vanish, and then completely disappeared after WestConn sealed the game-winner in double-overtime.
It was a crushing defeat for the Anchorwomen, and yet, Tavana couldn’t do anything about it. An ankle injury kept the central midfielder off the pitch for the entire game. As the WestConn players rushed the field in celebration, Tavana could only sit back and absorb the painful loss with her dejected teammates.
“It was probably the best we’ve ever played,” said Tavana, who’s slender 5-6 frame hints that the central midfielder is most comfortable running alongside her teammates on the field rather than sitting on the bench. “But it was frustrating to have to sit and watch,”
Her words could be taken as much literally as metaphorically, because according to her teammates and coaches, Christina Tavana simply doesn’t know how to sit back and watch. Especially when it comes to soccer, a sport that she admittedly “eats, sleeps, and breathes.”
Her love affair with the sport began at six years old while playing on a local youth team. From there, she starred on many select and travel clubs, many of which enabled her to travel throughout the Northeast. But once her senior year at Middletown High School (CT) approached, it was time to choose a college.
While many student-athletes search for a school that meets their academic or athletic needs, Tavana – who had the talent to play Division I women’s soccer - chose both.
“I was an art major,” said Tavana, who’s entering her junior year at RIC. “So I needed to find a school with a good soccer team and a good art program.”
So she took her passion for art and soccer to Providence, RI in 2006. In her freshman year, she was immediately thrust into the fire, playing 21 of 22 total team games and collecting three goals and two assists for the season.
An injury limited her to 11 games in 2007, but she was able to contribute a goal in a 4-2 victory over Johnson & Wales University. The Anchorwomen enjoyed one of their finest seasons before the stunning 3-2 double-overtime playoff loss to WestConn. And yet, it was that bitter defeat that motivated her to do everything she could to bring her club back to that point.
“We most definitely tried to carry everything over from that game into this season,” said Tavana.
But after a whopping nine senior players graduated last season, the Anchorwomen were in dire need of some new leaders. Prior to the start of this season, the coaches requested player feedback before selecting the new captains this season.
The decision was unanimous: Tavana, along with senior defender Kayla Flemming, were named captains, one of the greatest honors bestowed for any soccer player. But with a roster filled with underclassmen, the title has pointed meaning this season, as Tavana attempts to teach her young teammates the sophistication of the collegiate game.
“Christina Tavana has an enormous impact on this squad,” said RIC women’s soccer head coach Mike Koperda. “She’s respectable, she has an enormous work ethic and she has the skill to back it all up.”
She knows that as a captain, she carries the weight of trying to steer her so many of her young teammates toward not only how to develop as players, but as a team. However, she relishes her role as not only an on-field leader, but an off-field mentor as well.
“The freshman look up to Kayla and me,” said Tavana. “Even just to help with school, and not just soccer.”
Freshman Danielle Martino was “on the fence” about joining the team this year, until she spoke with Tavana prior to the season.
“I talked with Christina and (assistant) coach (Jessica) Knobel and decided to try out,” said Martino. “It was probably one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself.”
As a freshman, Martino noted that Tavana’s leadership has given her and her fellow teammates a sense of family, especially off the field. That sense of family has given Martino and her fellow underclassmen confidence in their abilities.
“It makes you want to be a part of the team for the next four years,” said Martino.
The challenge presented to Tavana this season was evident during the team’s match Tuesday afternoon against Bridgewater State College. By the 60th minute of the match, the young Anchorwomen were already staring down a 0-4 score.
But instead of retreating back on defense to simply stop the bleeding, Tavana implored her teammates to keep attacking. In the 82nd minute, she orchestrated the first Anchorwomen goal after sending a quick free kick to freshman Alicia Lardaro, who freed herself from her opponent and buried the ball past the goalkeeper.
The Anchorwomen seized the energy from that goal and kept fighting. Seconds later, Tavana curled a corner kick that skipped off the goalkeeper’s gloves and into the net to pull her team within two. Although a comeback wasn’t meant to be, the captain was pleased with the performance.
“I think we’re progressing from the first game,” said Tavana. “We’re getting better.”
Never one in search for motivation on the field, she hopes her enthusiasm before each game sparks the rest of her teammates to play the same spirited soccer witnessed during the final ten minutes of Tuesday’s game.
“She definitely has the skills, but she’s also a great team motivator,” said Knobel. “She’s not afraid to say how things are.”
And Tavana isn’t afraid to address the club’s struggles. Through ten games thus far, the Anchorwomen have only one victory. Although she would surely welcome more victories, Tavana emphasized that the bigger goal for her is to instill a greater sense of teamwork among her younger teammates for this season and next season.
And what about her goals after graduation?
“I have no idea – I’ll just keep playing,” quipped Tavana. “I’ll keep playing until I can’t walk anymore.”
On a serious note, she hopes to find a job in graphic design, and – you guessed it – and coaching college soccer, something she’d “love to do” after graduation.
Koperda has no doubt that his captain will succeed in whatever she does in life after school.
“She has the heart of a lion,” said Koperda. “She’s a lady who brings everything she has, and then searches for more.”