Pele. Ronaldo. Neymar. Kaka. All of these names have two things in common. First, they are some of the greatest soccer players the world has ever seen. Second, they are all from Brazil. To have the opportunity to compete where these, and so many other phenomenal athletes call home would be an honor for any soccer player. To visit a country with such a rich history in the sport would truly be a dream come true, and that is exactly what one former Corbin Lady Hound will get the opportunity to do later this summer.
Kaitlyn Waddle, who is about to enter into her sophomore season with the Lincoln Memorial University women’s soccer program, will be traveling next month along with several of her teammates to spend a week in Sao Paulo, Brazil. While there, the Railsplitters will be training alongside and playing against Brazilian club teams, and they will also get the chance to witness firsthand some of the action that is set to take place at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.
But before we get into the details of this upcoming trip, let’s back up and take a few moments to get up to speed on who Kaitlyn is, and how she has been doing since she left Corbin…
Waddle had an outstanding athletic career during her time at CHS. She received All-District and All-Region honors in each of her four seasons playing for the Lady Hounds, and she was named Region Defensive MVP and All-State Honorable Mention her senior season. She scored 32 goals as a high schooler, and amassed 76 assists, which was enough to set a school record and put her among the top ten all-time career assist leaders in the state of Kentucky.
As for how things have been going in Tennessee at LMU, Waddle said, “I was on the traveling team my freshman year, but we had a large senior class, so I didn’t get in many games. This spring I played in all of our scrimmages though, and I actually scored, so things have been going well.”
When asked about her role on the team, Waddle explained that she is now playing at the forward position, which is a new experience for her. “I’ve never played there before,” she said. “I’ve played midfield my whole life, so it has definitely been an adjustment, but I’m enjoying it. I’m happy to play wherever. I just want to get on the field and contribute.”
Waddle said that she feels like she has improved a lot since arriving at LMU, which is her ultimate goal from day to day. “My main goal has always been to just get better as a player, and I definitely feel like I have improved,” she said. “I have continued working really hard this summer, trying to improve as much as I can, so that when I get my chance, I’ll be ready for it.”
As for the biggest differences between playing in high school and playing in college, Waddle said, “It’s like a completely different game. Everybody that you’re out there with is a top player from wherever they came from. There is a higher intensity, and it is so much more physical. The speed of the game is at a new level, and everybody is just a really good player. You can’t ever take it easy or underestimate anybody.”
Waddle is hoping that her upcoming trip to Brazil will help her grow as a college soccer player, and will put her in the best possible position to make an impact when the new season begins in just a few weeks’ time. When asked about the trip, she said, “We will be leaving on August 1, and will be back on August 8. We will be playing several games against Brazilian club teams while we are there, and we are also going to get to see two women’s Olympic soccer games that will be taking place in the city while we are there.”
Waddle said that LMU takes its women’s and men’s soccer teams on a trip like this only once every four years, so for most of the athletes making the journey this summer, it will be their first time in Brazil. Of course, this trip will be extra special in 2016 because the Olympic Games just so happen to be taking place nearby.
The main goal of visiting Brazil is for the Railsplitters to improve their soccer skills, but there will also be plenty of opportunities for the players to relax and enjoy the scenery as well. In addition to getting to attend the Olympics, Waddle said that she and her teammates will be staying in a nice resort near the beach, and there will be some time set aside for a little “R and R” with the sand and sun.
When asked about what her specific expectations for the trip are, Waddle said, “This is going to be an early opportunity for us to get in shape and get our foot on the ball in an environment where most of us have never played before. It is going to be an amazing experience, especially with the Olympics going on down there.”
“I think it will also be a good bonding experience, and will help bring the team closer together,” Waddle continued. “I believe that when a team is closer, they will play better, so in addition to playing soccer, another goal is for us to just to go down there and get to know each other better.”
Waddle said that she is very excited to observe the style of play in Brazil, and she can’t wait to pick up some valuable knowledge that will hopefully help her with her playing career back in the states, but this trip will not be without its concerns. There has been much talk in recent months about the Zika virus, which has affected so many in Brazil, and is now beginning to spread to other parts of the world.
When asked if she is worried about the prevalence of Zika in Brazil, or if there has been any discussion among her team about the potential threat that the disease poses, Waddle said, “My parents have been a little concerned, but our coach (Head Coach Helio D’Anna) has addressed it. He is from there originally, and he has family down there now. His sister is actually a doctor there, so he’s checked with her to make sure that everything is fine. He said that as long as we keep plenty of bug spray on, it should be okay. Plus, with the Olympics going on we expect them to have it pretty much under control. I honestly don’t think that coach would take us if there was even a chance that it wasn’t going to be safe.”
So, with that Waddle and her fellow Railsplitters are now preparing to make the long journey down to South America a little more than two weeks from now. It will be the beginning of what she hopes will be a successful 2016 campaign, where she will likely see an increased role on the team, as will several of the members of last year’s freshman class. “The team will be younger this year,” she said. “And coach is depending on last year’s freshmen to step up after having a year to mature and adjust to playing at the college level. I think we’ll definitely have a good season, and I’m really looking forward to it.”
The LMU women went 5-9-3 in 2015, a record that Waddle is confident she and her teammates can improve upon this fall. After graduating such a large senior class, there will surely be many voids to fill, but the current attitude is one of optimism.
“I think we’ll definitely have a better record this year,” said Waddle. “We started off last season really well, and we had great leaders, but I think that expectations were maybe just a little bit too high. After we started off so well, we got a little unlucky throughout the rest of the season, losing games that we shouldn’t have.”
To make sure that doesn’t happen again, Waddle said that she plans on doing what she always does – working hard to help her team in any way that she can. “My main goal is always just to get better,” she said. “I want to take advantage of this opportunity in Brazil and continue trying to reach my full potential. I want to get a better understanding of the game, and see the different ways that it is played. I also want to have fun with my teammates, though. Brazil is somewhere that I’ve always wanted to go, so I plan on having some fun while I’m down there, but the main goal is to improve as a player and get a head start going into the new season.”
Looking back, Waddle said that she misses her days spent in a Corbin uniform, and she wanted to congratulate last year’s Lady Hounds team on their district and regional championship season. She said that she doesn’t think she’ll ever be able to develop the same types of relationships that she had with her high school teammates, many of whom she continues to keep in close contact with.
“I’ll always miss playing here,” Waddle said in closing. “Those were the best years of my life so far, and I just want to thank the community for all of their support over the years. I feel blessed to come from a place like this. I will always be a Corbin Redhound.”
The News Journal will hope to provide an update on Waddle’s trip to Brazil once she returns home later this summer. For more information on the Lincoln Memorial University women’s soccer program, as well as all other Railsplitter athletics, visit them online at lmurailsplitters.com.