By Ryan Schneider
Arizona Daily Wildcat
After creating three collegiate soccer programs from scratch, Coach Lisa Fraser knows what qualities are necessary to implement a solid soccer foundation at the Division I level.
She'll tell you that strong leadership and a great deal of patience are critical to the success of a team's maturation.
So when fifth-year senior Celine Verdier walked into Fraser's office last semester and offered her services to the newly-formed Arizona women's soccer team, Fraser had to restrain herself from jumping right out of her portable office outside McKale Center, right?
Wrong. At that moment, it must have seemed too good to be true for Fraser. Surely, as a fifth-year senior Verdier must have a vast repertoire of soccer experience ... right, Celine?
"The last competitive soccer I played was in France when I was 12," said a stolid Verdier, a thick French accent adding to her claim.
Although Fraser could have construed this as a cruel joke Ä her team's eldest player would have the least amount of playing experience, there actually is an up side to all this.
You see, for the past two years, Verdier has been one of the Arizona women's tennis team's top players. Verdier's varsity lifestyle has become important to the women's soccer team because she is one of only two current soccer players to have any UA Division I athletic experience. The other, fellow senior Teresa Castillo, earned her letter in 1991 ... for the UA softball team.
"It's hard to be a leader in this situation, but I try to tell them and explain to them what it means to be a Wildcat, what is expected of them by being a Wildcat," Verdier said. "When you're part of UA athletics, it's not something you leave on the field. It's 24 hours a day."
Up until last May, when her tennis scholarship expired, Verdier's life centered around tennis. When her eligibility ended, so too did a chapter of Verdier's life.
"For now, I don't see myself playing much tennis anymore," said Verdier, who traveled from Roussillon, France four years ago exclusively to study and seek a higher level of tennis. "If somebody comes up to me and says, 'Hey, want to play professional tennis for free?' I'd say, 'sure.' But that's probably not going to happen, so tennis is pretty much over for me."
After dominating the junior tennis scene in France and after compiling a 27-7 record at Mississippi State as the second-ranked player on the team, Verdier transferred to Arizona in time for the 1993 tennis season because her coach at Mississippi State unexpectedly quit. After finishing her two-year Wildcat tenure with a 40-29 singles record, it was time for Verdier to move on.
Yes, it was time to move on, but the physical skills associated with tennis would not be forgotten once Verdier set foot on a soccer field. She realized that soccer, just like tennis, is also a game of footwork, stamina and sudden bursts of speed.
More importantly, Verdier soon realized that soccer is a mind game.
"Sometimes, I get frus- trated with my soccer, and that's where tennis has helped me the most," she said. "In tennis, I've learned how to be in control of myself and be relaxed and constantly focused on the field."
That's not all she learned. On the court, Verdier preferred serve-and-volley style tennis, which basically means she found pleasure in slamming an 80-mph serve at an opponent, launching herself to the net and blocking an equally forceful return from its destination toward the baseline, all in a matter of seconds. That agressive attitude has served Verdier well on the field.
After granting her wish for a tryout, Fraser and the UA coaching staff evaluated Verdier's strenghths and weaknesses and agreed that she was indeed an attacker. A forward, to be precise.
"She is real creative with the ball and can do things with it that are pretty advanced despite her experience," Fraser said.
Verdier's creativity stems from the style of soccer played in France. The French prefer a more rooted ground game than the Americans, and when Verdier was growing up, junior soccer was a seven-on-seven sport with only one half of the field being utilized.
But in France, a female tennis player is looked at in a higher light than a female soccer player. In fact, when Verdier played soccer as a child, her competition was mostly boys. Verdier's family still lives in France, and when she went home for five weeks this summer, Verdier broke the news of her decision to her parents.
Unlike some typical tennis parents, Verdier's folks were supportive of her choice.
"Even though women's soccer is not that important in France, my father is especially proud of me," Verdier said. "When I was little, my father took me to all the games and all the practices and would watch me play.
"Anyway, he knows I've always preferred soccer to tennis."
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