Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Back At It...Sorry for the Delay!

Well where to start?!?!

It’s been well over two months since my last blog entry (check the heading, I said “attempt to chronicle”) I knew it would be difficult for me to keep up with blogging. Why you may ask??? Can’t say I’m quite sure myself or have any legitimate excuses, but let’s just blame in on the fact that the season has gotten underway and my favorite TV shows are back on the air (P.S. Olivia Pope from "Scandal" is a boss)!

So the happenings in my life here in Germany since August 8th….

August 8-September 7 can best be summed up as a continuation of the first month of preseason…laufen laufen laufen (running) and testspiele (scrimmages) against boys. An interesting and exciting development was that Erika and Bianca, both friends and former teammates from the US Youth National Teams in the past, joined our team on loan from FC Kansas City for the fall. We now have 6 American’s on the team and some refer to us as FC Bayern America...hopefully all in good nature, because it really just means we find the Bundesliga a competitive league and enjoy playing for Bayern!

I was so excited when September rolled around because it meant our season would start, and boy did it start off on a good note! We faced VfL Wolfsburg in our first match. For those of you who don’t know German Frauenfußball or women’s soccer at all, Wolfsburg, won the Treble last year (UEFA Champions League, German Frauen-Bundesliga, and DFB-Pokal Cup), essentially making them the best team in Europe. They are loaded with German National team players and various other International stars. Our game against them would be at their place, on a Saturday to kick off the season, live on Eurosport television, and streamed online for all my friends and family to watch back home. We knew we were in for a BIG GAME (my favorite). We also knew that we had prepared as best we could during our two-month preseason and that we had absolutely nothing to lose. We were by and large the underdogs and our team has a history of “upsetting” the favorites in the past seasons. We ended up tying Wolfsburg 1-1 and with a little luck could have come away with the full three points, but a good start nonetheless.

My mom and I after our win against Freiburg
Next up was SC Freiburg. Another BIG GAME because it would be our home opener at the historic but newly renovated Grünwald Stadion in the heart of München.  Also, and perhaps more pertinent, because my darling mother would be flying over from the States and watching from the stands! Like I mentioned in my previous blog, my mom has been a devoted soccer mom (attending 91 of 93 games at UNC) and although she never puts any added pressure on me to perform, who doesn’t want to impress when your biggest fan has flown 4,500 miles to see you play?! Good thing is  we ended up winning a tough game 2-1, and better yet, I scored the game-winning goal off a diving header. Unfortunately there’s no photo evidence, but after scoring I did point to the stands as if to say “That one was for you, mom!” If I’m being honest, and a bit sentimental, then I must admit that I’m always playing with my mom on my mind, as well as other family, friends, coaches, and teammates, who have helped me get to the point in my life today where I am wearing Bayern colors and continually support me from afar.

After just two games, we had a two-week “break,” meaning no Bundesliga games, for UEFA Qualifying for the 2015 FIFA World Cup. My team has two German, three Austrian, one Swiss, and one Italian National team player(s), so we had to improvise a bit during training and some U17 players filled in for numbers. Sessions were intense because we had no games to taper for, but the highlight was definitely the “Amis” vs. the German 6vs. 6 game…bet you can guess who won?!

After a successful first few qualifying games for my teammates and their various countries, we entered what is referred to as an “English” week. This means we play three games in the course of one week, a rare occurrence in our league. On the first Sunday we would face TSV Crailsheim, a second division team, in the first round of DFB-Pokal Cup. The DFB Pokal is the primary national women’s competition in Germany and all clubs from the 2nd and 1st division of the Bundesliga make up the competition. Unlike the season, which spans over nine months, the Pokal features single elimination games, so if you lose, you’re out. Each round, the matchups are completely chosen at random, so it’s any guess which opposing team you could face. Bayern won the Pokal in 2012 and last year we lost in overtime of the semifinals. We took care of business in Crailsheim, posting a 7-0 victory, with Erika scoring her first (two) goals for Bayern, Apple netting a hat trick, and I added one as well.

Our Thursday game was another away game against SGS Essen. Because it was a midweek game and a long trek, we flew into Cologne the day before to allow for optimal preparation. Essen is an aggressive and hard team to beat, particularly at home, but we prevailed 2-1. Similar to my Bundesliga debut last March, I was able to tally a header goal, and Apple slotted home a through ball from me for the win.

One of my header goals against Cloppenburg
That Sunday we faced off at home against BV Cloppenburg, a team that was recently promoted from the second division but had signed a lot of quality players to their roster. The first half was not our best effort and we went into halftime tied 2-2, albeit I had scored our two goals, both identical headers off of corner kicks. I have scored all four of my league goals off headers from corners or free kicks, so clearly I am getting great services from my teammates. If only I could have managed to do the same at UNC. But, as Anson always says, it’s about living on a “never ending ascension” and I am finally applying years of his adage “get above it, head it low, across the frame, back where it came from.” Not sure why it’s clicking now, but I don’t hate it, and I will continue to focus on it, because as a defensive player, there are limited opportunities for me to have a positive impact on my team’s offensive performance. After halftime we regrouped, and scored three goals in the second half to win 5-2 and sit second in the league table after four games, undefeated with a record of 3-0-1 with ten points.

Our game against Cloppenburg was on October 6, which also marked the last day of the 16-day long Oktoberfest. I had heard stories and our team was well equipped for the event with dirndls (see picture), but there’s really no way to know what Oktoberfest is until you experience it yourself. Picture a massive carnival, the Jersey Shore boardwalk, and massive tents that fit thousands of people drinking liter beers, eating hendls (roasted half chicken breasts) and singing German songs. I will leave you with some photos and the acknowledgment that it was quite the cultural experience.

Erika and I at the infamous Oktoberfest
In our most recent game this past Saturday we squared off against FFC Frankfurt. Another game on Eurosport TV and streamed online, against another team stacked with national team players and off to a strong start to the season. Unfortunately, we lost 4-1. Simply summarized, we did not play well, while they played very well, and deservedly won the game. Obviously we are disappointed with our performance, but we will analyze the game as an opportunity to learn, evaluate our weaknesses, and concentrate on the traits that make our team successful.  It is a long season, and every team will hit bumps in the road, but the teams that finish top are able to refocus quickly and develop a consistency where they can find a way to win even when they are not playing their best football. I expect more from myself, I expect more from my teammates, and I expect that we will put in a good week’s training ahead of our next game this Sunday against Bayer Leverkusen. The competition is closer than ever this year, and it’s important that we get back on track with a strong performance. We all know our goals, and in order to give ourselves the best chance of achieving them, we must prepare and perform like the professionals we are, day in and day out. GAMEDAY is my favorite day of the week (in case you couldn’t already tell by my Twitter account), but it’s what I do on/off the field every other day that will make GAMEDAY a joy, like the first four games of our season, or a day to forget, like last Saturday. As the legendary, somewhat psychotic coach, Bob Knight once said, "Most people have the will to win, few have the will to prepare to win." There's little glory and glamour in preparation, but without it there is no chance of triumph. 

So that’s the latest happenings in my life as a professional footballer for Bayern. Besides the soccer side of things, I am preparing for the impending arrival of winter. It was a nice summer in Munich, but the leaves seem to fall at a much more rapid pace here than in New Hope and definitely compared to Chapel Hill. In fact, last week, on October 10th, we experienced our first snowfall, and of course, the flakes began to downpour just as practice was beginning. It definitely caught me off guard, but good news is I always have my beanie i packed in my bag. I love the fall, but it seems as though the Munich weather is anxious to get to winter. Once again, I better start preparing myself!

Hopefully it won’t be another two months until I update this blog again, in which case I might be typing from home as my return flight to the US is scheduled for December 16th!!! But, if I seem to be lagging again, you can always check out my Twitter and Instagram accounts (@abrooks22), which are updated rather frequently.

Liebe Grüße,

Bianca, Erika, and I modeling our dirndl's
courtesy of the club...Danke Bayern!
The liter of beers or "Mass" as they are called at Oktoberfest

Inside view of one of the many tents that fit thousands of attendees

Thursday, August 8, 2013

It Ain't All That Bad...Preseason Fun

Sorry it’s been awhile since my last post…even though I don’t have schoolwork to preoccupy my spare time these days, I’ve started watching the TV series “Dexter” from the first season and along with naps, that seems to take up the majority of my time between training sessions…but today we began our preseason “break” of five days off and while my fellow “Ami”, Gina Lewandowski, and I had planned a few days adventure in Prague, I seem to have come down with the flu and am quarantined in my room for the near future…I have to say I’ve had terrible luck in my European travels as something always seems to come up and I have to cancel…my Paris plans were cancelled twice in the Spring and now my Prague trip…at least I wasn’t planning on flying because I’ve had just about enough of paying change fees…and I suppose being bedridden gives me the opportunity to catch up on my blogging…just wish my mom was here to nurse me back to health (funny how mom’s naturally make you feel better)

I’ve been back in Munich for a month now and we just completed our fifth week of preseason training. Not going to lie, at our first team meeting when our coach, Tom, handed out the three page schedule my eyes widened when I counted that we had more than 60 trainings and 8 scrimmages before our first game on September 7th…and I thought our six week winter preseason was long! I was accustomed to the 16 day preseasons with UNC, but clearly, there are no NCAA rules prohibiting you from training as often and for as many hours as you’d like at the professional level…but as I keep reminding myself, it is my job, and running, lifting, and training in the heat isn’t as painful when you not only love the sport, but are getting paid to do it…I found this quote a bit ago when I was trolling around on Pinterest and it really sums up my thoughts on being a professional athlete… “If you’re lucky enough to find a way of life you love, you have to find the courage to live it”- John Irving…now I know, many of you are probably thinking how tough could it be to “find the courage to live” as a professional athlete…I’m not sure I’m in the demographic John Irving was speaking to, but to say it's easy to live life as a pro athlete would be an understatement…there are a lot of ups and downs, a lot of things you don’t have control over, and in my case, a lot of miles (4, 463 to be exact) and time away from my family and friends…so this quote really hit home and reminds me in moments of doubt that I am lucky to be living my life as a professional soccer player for FC Bayern München…

So I bet you are all curious what preseason has entailed thus far…well here’s a general idea of what our weekly training rhythm usually looks like…

Monday- “free” day, which actually isn't quite so free because I go to our physio to get a massage and have to do a 50 minute auslaufen (recovery run) 
Tuesday- lifting followed by running (our favorite is 4mins at 90-95% max HR, 2 mins jog, 4-6 times…total sarcasm…our team hates the infamous “EB” running)
Wednesday- morning training with Matthias who I would best describe as a mental/ball skills coach…there’s really no way of describing our sessions with him so I plan on posting a video in the future…training again at night
Thursday- training at night…usually more tactical in nature
Friday- morning lift followed by night practice, which usually features some type of running afterwards such as 15second sprints or various agility/speed stations
Saturday- depends on the week…usually some form of training…last week we had Judo training which was pretty fun and an interesting change up
Sunday- scrimmage, better known as “Testspiel” in German…we’ve played our second team, FC Zurich from the Swiss league, and two boys teams so far…on schedule we have a few more boys teams and our last scrimmage before league play starts will be against the North Korean National Team which is touring Germany

Judo moves and Gina Lewandowski with the tap out!
Photo cred: Florian Schießl

As you tell from the schedule above, our weeks are pretty packed and when we’re not training I still try to be a consummate professional and focus on what I need to do to perform at my best…whether that’s going to Heros (sports rehab center) for treatment or extra flexibility training (yes, I am beyond inflexible) or resting my legs with my Skins on between sessions (not so fun in the Munich summer which surprisingly has been HOT!) With five weeks of preseason down, we have four more to go before our season opener away against the Treble winners, Wolfsburg, on September 7th…so far our team is taking shape as we work on a new formation and our fitness is certainly being squared away…I’m excited for Lena and Leonie to join us next week after winning the Euros with Germany and as strange as it sounds, I am actually enjoying's an awesome feeling knowing you're getting better and seeing the results of you hard work...

Until next time,

Friday, July 26, 2013

Closing the Chapter to My Career at Carolina

Photo cred:

Hello again!!

So I know I’m supposed to have already moved on… I began my new chapter playing with FC Bayern München in January, but having left a semester early, I never felt like I really got the chance to turn the page on the Carolina chapter of my life…so pardon the length, but here is my heartfelt farewell…

My last two weeks at UNC were an absolute whirlwind. After winning the National Championship on December 2, we flew a redeye home from San Diego, I attended my last in-class lectures, and naturally, the nightly celebratory parties commenced. In between what I refer to as “experiencing four years of college in two weeks,” I took several final exams, finishing my grueling 19-credit fall semester, played some pickup soccer, and of course, celebrated some more. Teammates finished their semesters and everyday I was forced to give reluctant goodbyes as they departed home for Christmas break…With my four-years eligibility officially expired, I began talks with Bayern Munich, but was still undecided if I wanted to play overseas or in the newly organized NWSL. I had to pack up my room at the infamous “Yellow House,” aka the “Taj McCaul” and doll myself up for “the graduation party of all graduation parties” at the Carolina Inn (thanks Mrs. Jones) with fellow graduating seniors, Maria, Courtney, and Adelaide. And don’t forget Dino’s Christmas party and a few more nights at the Thrill. My last days as a student-athlete at UNC were winding down, everyone seemed to be leaving me (at least that’s how I rationalize my actual leaving), and I had big decisions to make about my soon-to-be job as a professional soccer player…AHHH!! December 16 came too fast, and after piling into my “baby” Lincoln Aviator immediately after commencement in the Dean Dome, it took all of two minutes into our drive on I-85 North for tears to swell up in my eyes…I wasn’t just driving home for Christmas break, I was leaving the southern part of heaven for the foreseeable future…

I couldn’t have chosen a better school than UNC to attend college. I had always dreamed of going to UNC (I think every little soccer girl does), and although I initially had doubts on my first recruiting visit, now I think back on my verbal commitment to Anson on October 22, 2007, and absolutely, without-a-doubt, know it was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my young life. Of course the success I had on the field, winning two National Championships, the positive learning experience I had in the classroom, and the year-round beauty of Chapel Hill are obvious reasons I enjoyed my 3.5 years at Carolina. But what I really experienced, a sense of family and love, I cannot describe in words, and honestly can only be felt by those who dawned the infamous Carolina Blue jersey or were involved with the program in some capacity. I said it in my senior speech, but what I learned most during my experience at Carolina is the amazing things a team can accomplish when its feels like a family and the players share an unconditional, underlying love for one let's rewind a bit...

I’ve rarely admitted it, but I showed up at preseason freshman year just hoping that I wouldn’t have an emotional breakdown and have to return home. Just a few months before I lost my father to suicide and my “soccer mom,” Charlotte Moran, to pancreatic cancer. Up until this point, my life was fairytale-esque...ranked the number one recruit, signing my NLI to play for one of the greatest dynasties, about to graduate summa cum laude, supportive parents and big brothers, a great group of “lunch-table” girl-friends…I had it all and the slope of my life was rising…and then I came home from school one night and all that I knew about my life in the past, present, and future, suddenly didn’t seem so perfect…

As you can guess, it was not exactly how I imagined my senior year ending or an occurrence I ever expected to have to deal with in my life…psychologists talk about the five stages of grief, and I think I experienced them all at once, and then again when Charlotte passed three weeks later… I was virtually numb to any and all emotions and I personified a “rock” … couple the death's of two significant people in your life with the change of leaving your family and friends to start college and play for the reigning National Champions, and you can bet I was off the charts on the Holmes and Rahe stress scale (knowledge courtesy of my favorite PSYC 101 course)…still I trained through the summer, not surprisingly finding soccer was my outlet, safe haven, and the only time my mind was distracted from the millions of unanswered questions running through it…

August 1st, 2009 rolled around and while I thought I was physically prepared, I didn’t know if I was mentally prepared to enter the “Competitive Cauldron” without my dad’s infamous leadership and motivational talks to turn to…Fortunately, those who know my mama, Jean Brooks, know she is one-heck of an amazing woman, and as she had along, would see to it that I continued to reach my goals and know nothing but love and support along the way…she promised to attend as many games as she could (she made it to 91/93 of my games btw) but I no longer had the support system by my side that I had been accustomed to for 18 years…I’m not sure who was more upset or worried when all my junk was moved into the Castle locker room and we said our goodbyes…my mom or me…there was also Megan Brigman who appeared so frightened she was a mute, but that’s certainly not the Briggy we know now!!

I managed to get through preseason with the help of a special group of seniors (Tobin Heath, Nikki Washington, Casey Noguiera, Kristi Eveland, Whitney Engen, Ashlyn Harris, Caroline Boneparth, Ashley Moore, and Sterling Smith) who set the standard for what it meant to be a Tarheel and established the theme of “TFLF,” which stands for “Team, Fun, Love, Family” and is still a motto of the team today. The coaching and support staff also helped me adjust to life in Chapel Hill, and of course there were parents such as the Eveland’s and the Jones’ who were always lending a hug and offering words of advice. It was perfect timing really…when my sense of family was shaken to the core, I inherited a family of thirty-some girls, their parents, and a handful of coaches and staff who became my Carolina family. This family continued to grow and grow over the course of my career, and ironically, it was because of my Carolina family that I had such a difficult time adjusting to my new life as a pro in Germany this past spring without them. The culmination of winning the National Championship and going out on top as a senior was the cherry on top of an unforgettable four year journey that featured a whole lot of hard work, late nights, ass kicking, and most importantly, feelings of love and family. 

Outsiders won’t be able to comprehend my indebtedness to Carolina and there will always be haters of the program…winning inevitably results in jealousy and ignorance on behalf of the foes that fall to our high-pressure system. Even in today’s age of parity, the fact that our practices and formula for winning are published in Anson’s books, and with the growth of the women’s game and talent in the US, the Tarheels have still managed to collect six of the last twelve National Championships, and 22 of the last 32 overall…the blueprint is out there, so why do we keep winning?! Well, of course it’s hard to emulate our coaching and support staff…there is the one-and-only Anson, who, regardless of your opinion, is undeniably one of the greatest motivators with an uncanny knowledge of the female psyche… Dino, who balances Anson out and keeps our defense in shape…Ducar, who is always good for finding the “born Tarheel” recruits…Tom, who ask anyone, keeps the program functioning…Nicole, who plays the thankless role of “mom away from home” to thirty teenagers…and you can’t forget our dedicated team managers, who ensure we don’t have to pick up a cone and provide comic relief on the days they have to jump in goal for 3vs3 (to read their complaints follow them @UNCManagerProbz)…

But beyond the ultra-competitive practices, the infamous 120s and cones fitness, and the statistics which never fail to illustrate “Where you’re at…” the secret lies in the players’ ability to get after one another at practice and then pile into a car and bump out to Kesha’s “Die Young” without ever having to verbally apologize for being aggressive (some would say borderline mean) because it is implied that you were only trying to “make me better…”

The secret lies in the seniors trying to incorporate and initiate the underclassman into the program, and come NCAA tournament time, underclassmen returning the favor by giving up their roster spot or sprinting 60 yards and diving on the goal line (aka The Brooke Elby) to ensure the senior’s get one more game in a Carolina jersey...

The secret lies, as Hannah Daly so eloquently wrote in her Thanksgiving note to the team, in the “self-sacrificial demonstration of love.” And this my friend, as cliché as it sounds, is the secret to the continued success of the UNC Women’s Soccer Team…we might be some super-competitive bitches, but at the end of the day, we love each other and are “family”…luckily for me, just because I won't take Fetzer Field again, doesn't mean that I am not a part of the Carolina "family" anymore...

The start of preseason and the 2013 season is around the corner and I have to keep reminding myself that my services are no longer needed…a new crop of stellar freshman will soon be moving into the Castle…dreading the first day’s Athletic testing and tweeting feelings of homesickness…but after the upperclassman are done pushing them through 120s and certainly after the beach trip…the freshies will realize that their “family” is thirty-strong and they are not so far away from home…

My undergraduate diploma in hand, I can now adequately close the chapter to my career at Carolina….what a storybook ending it was and I have my “family” to thank for that…of course I will be envious of all the Instagram photos and stalk the team Twitter account (@UNCwomensSoccer), but I do so now as an Alum…for my place this fall is in Munich…

“It is rare, indeed, when you are doing exactly what you want to do, with exactly the people you want to do it with, in exactly the place you want to be…In life, most people are happy when they just get one right, and two is like Heaven…(And getting all three right could only happen in Chapel Hill)."- John Gay (Adi's dad) 

EVERY DAY is a Good Day To Be A Tarheel,


P.S. If you don’t believe my words and want to visually see the “family” and “love” and absolute craziness I’m wrote about, check out Brittani Bartok’s YouTube masterpiece entitled Team. Fun. Love. Family: