For Whitt, the Goal is Playing
By Jonathan Drew

Editor's Note: The following feature first appeared in the March 21 issue of the National Commodore Club's Flagship magazine.

On a brisk Tuesday night in March the women's soccer team scrimmages to prepare for its first spring game later that week. Goalkeeper Lauren Whitt crouches in goal, waiting intently as her teammates drive the ball towards her in formation. While routine practices like this might bore some elite goalies, Whitt relishes her every opportunity on the field.

"I look at every practice differently now," she said. "I just walk out on the field and think, 'wow.' It's just great to be able to get out there and play. Sometimes I'm exhausted mentally and physically at the end of the week, but at the same time it's a great feeling because I'm finally able to get on the field."

Whitt's refreshing perspective comes as a result of two long seasons spent rehabilitating an injured knee. The redshirt sophomore, a member the women's national team that won Gold at the 1999 Pan American Games in Canada, had been a mainstay in goal for the Commodores her freshman year. Since then, two subsequent ACL tears have kept her on the sidelines. She first tore her ACL in a 1999 game against Alabama, and she reinjured the same knee in 2000 during summer league play.

Cleared to practice in December, Whitt hopes to make up for lost time and recover from an injury that spells retirement for many athletes.

"I think that for the average person such an injury is much more devastating, but not for Lauren Whitt," said Vanderbilt Coach Robbie Church. "She knows it's a struggle, but she's working very hard. She's very inspirational to all of us."

Now able to practice at full speed, Whitt said that she wants to return to the elite level of play that allowed her to thrive in both NCAA and international competition. Her personal goals include an SEC title and an NCAA run for her team before she leaves. She also hopes to play in the newly formed women's professional soccer league. To fulfill this goal, she realizes that she needs to regain the confidence that she built during her tenure with the women's national team.

"One of the most positive things about playing in the Pan Am games was the exposure to international competition," she said. "I remember what that level of play was, and I remember that I could play there. I want to get back to that level. I think that's one of the things that has been my driving motivation for the last two years."

According to Coach Church, Whitt has shown promising signs of improvement this spring. Whitt says that, despite some frustration, she has been encouraged by her improvement.

"During the first week of practice, I was way ahead of where I thought I would be," she said. "For a while, I could tell a difference with each day. Now I've plateaued a little bit. Right now, it's all about getting my timing back."

While injured, Lauren stayed involved with the team by attending practices and games. For a season, she helped out the other goalies with their technique, taking on some of the duties of a goalkeeper coach. In addition, she endured grueling rehabilitation sessions.

"The toughest part of this ordeal has been just going in every day and doing that much extra rehab," she said. "The past two seasons I was doing two to three hours of rehab in addition to going to all the team practices and team lifts. I would go to McGugin Center at one in the afternoon and be there until nine or ten at night."

She even went out of her way to ensure the team's success by doing laundry on a couple road trips and making telephone calls for team reservations. In spite of her eagerness to help out her teammates, she says that they were a real help to her.

"I think about how amazing my teammates have been," she said. "They've done everything from carrying my bags when I was on crutches to motivating me in practice now that I'm back. I have real high standards, and I expect a lot out of myself. They're very encouraging when I get frustrated with myself."

Despite the frustration of her serious injury, Whitt says that it has provided her valuable insight.

"Personally I have grown so much through the ACL tear that I almost wouldn't trade the experience," she said. "I've kind of stepped back and watched my teammates, learning more about team interaction. Now that I'm back, I know people's characteristics, and I can understand their behavior on the field."


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