Local duo should have bright WPS future
While her new Chicago Red Stars teammates went to New Jersey for the Women's Professional Soccer season opener last weekend, Michele Weissenhofer went to South Bend, Ind.
It's tough trying to start a new job while finishing a degree in marketing, but then just having a job puts Weissenhofer ahead of many of her Notre Dame classmates these days. And as jobs go, playing soccer beats working in a coal mine.
"I'm a very lucky person to be able to wake up every morning and play the game that I love," she said.
Weissenhofer isn't alone, however. Joining the Neuqua Valley High School graduate on the Red Stars' developmental squad is a friend from the western suburbs, Geneva's Jackie Santacaterina.
Santacaterina is taking classes online and completing an internship as she works toward a May graduation from Illinois in community health.
Santacaterina and Weissenhofer aren't on the traveling squad yet, but coach Emma Hayes said it's just a matter of time for both.
And both will be at Toyota Park on Saturday night for the team's home opener against St. Louis Athletica.
"They're both very physical players, a great work rate and in training really good human beings," Hayes said. "Apart from being locals they add a great deal to this squad and they'll be very important to us this season."
It's a busy year in women's soccer, with 2011 World Cup qualifying added to a full WPS schedule. Between injuries and international call-ups, it'll be all hands on deck. The key is to be patient, keep working hard and be ready when your time comes.
"She's so honest about it and realistic, which has been great," Santacaterina said of Hayes. "She says it'll be tough."
It's always tough for any new player. Adjusting to the speed of the game is a common theme.
"You're way outside your comfort zone," Santacaterina said.
"I've never done anything like this where you're pushed so far, but it's been awesome getting through it and having confidence after it.
"The first day I came in we played possession and I don't think I even touched the ball. My head was spinning the whole time. It was so much faster than I was used to."
Weissenhofer is adjusting to a new position, going to left back from forward, though the team still hopes to use her ability to get forward.
"It's hard work, but I'm loving it," she said.
If Weissenhofer seems just happy to be playing, there's good reason. She missed most of her senior season at Notre Dame after injuring one hamstring, then the other. Still, the Red Stars saw something in her that they liked and drafted her anyway. Now she's healthy and trying to make the most of her opportunity. Maybe she'll even get a chance to break out her flip throw-ins in a game.
Santacaterina, whose cousin Mike Magee plays for the Los Angeles Galaxy in Major League Soccer, is splitting time between her familiar holding midfielder spot and center back, where her smarts and tackling ability will be tested.
Probably the easiest part has been being accepted by their new teammates. Except for a little karaoke, there's been no hazing.
"I thought I'd get so much more being a rookie," Santacaterina said. "That was the one uncomfortable thing we had to do."
Instead of looking over their shoulders, Santacaterina and Weissenhofer just put their heads down and go to work. There's not much fame in women's soccer, and there's definitely not much fortune, but they're grateful for the chance.
"I'm living the dream," Santacaterina said, "so I can't complain if I'm getting paid to run sprints."