Championship season is fast approaching for fall NCAA sports, which means teams are close to tallying their first points in the Capital One Cup. Olympic gold medalist and World Cup champion Brandi Chastain enters her second year as an ambassador of the Capital One Cup. She is a former Santa Clara University player and currently a volunteer assistant coach for the No. 7 ranked Broncos. Recently, she took the time to talk about the Capital One Cup, the changing women’s college soccer landscape and her best WUSA memories following the 10th anniversary of the Bay Area CyberRays inaugural championship.
Jeff Kassouf: What is your take on how the Capital One Cup went last year? Stanford won on the women’s side and Florida won on the men’s side.
Brandi Chastain: First of all, I was excited to be a part of the Capital One Cup team ambassador to the student-athlete. Having my experience at Santa Clara University, it was very exciting not only to try to win a national championship in your respective sport, but I think then to contribute to your universities potential victory of the Capital One Cup is very exciting. We obviously didn’t have anything like that when I was at Santa Clara, so I think it is fantastic. Stanford on the women’s side, kind of made it a one horse race fairly early, but I think with the addition of new sports on the men’s and women’s side, it could be less likely for that to happen again. I think also, on the men’s side, it was very exciting because it literally came down to men’s baseball and the World Series. Florida was in sixth place going into the tournament and they jumped over five other teams to take the title, so that is exciting to know that it is a complete university contribution, as you saw on the Stanford side. But also on the Florida side that it can come down to the wire – that is what makes this championship and this cup so exciting.
JK: What is new this year then? You mentioned added sports.
BC: There are plenty of new added sports. I think when everyone thinks about collegiate sports, they think about the big names that you get to see on a regular basis on television. What I loved about being on the Capital One Cup team last year is that it is not only about recognizing what happens on the field but it is about rewarding a $200,000 post-graduate scholarship ($400,000 combined). It is also recognizing that academics are a part of athletics at the collegiate level. Now these teams in women’s sports of bowling, fencing, rifling, skiing, ice hockey, gymnastics and water polo – and on the men’s side water polo, fencing, rifling, skiing, gymnastics and volleyball – will also have a chance to contribute to their university’s point total when the tallies are made come the end of June after men’s baseball. I love that there have been additions and no deletions. I love the excitement that was around last year’s cup; I love that it did go to the wire on the men’s side. And again, I do love the acknowledgement by Capital One and the leaders there about the academic side of sports. I think some people have a tendency to get dismayed about that and I think that is a very valuable component, because as we know, the majority of athletes that compete in collegiate sports will not become professionals in their sport. They take those lessons and what they have learned on the field and on the court and they take them into their lives. So, they are very, very important.
JK: And Stanford at the top is obviously no slouch of and academic university.
BC: No, and I think that is great. Them winning the championship – kudos to them. I think they have a wonderful program there. I get to see it on a first hand basis since I live in the Bay Area and my husband’s team competes against them in women’s soccer. I think it also sets a standard and that is what the Capital One Cup stands for, is that standard of excellence on and off the playing field. I think that if we can raise the level on both of those it is better for everybody.
JK: You mentioned hopefully seeing other schools emerge to compete for the Capital One Cup. Are you finding that you are discovering new talented players in women’s college soccer? There are traditionally strong teams like Portland that are struggling and there are a lot of mid-majors finding success. Are you discovering teams and players that you otherwise would not?
BC: Absolutely. I think what the Capital One Cup puts a highlight on is that there are student-athletes out there that excel at the highest level and you’ve not ever had a chance to see their name or recognize their talent. This shines a light on those student-athletes and I love that. I love hearing about what is coming up in men’s and women’s cross country and what is happening in gymnastics. It gives me as a sports fan – because I love all sports – it gives me a chance to look forward to something that I may not have paid attention to and that makes it exciting.
In terms of soccer-specific, there are a lot of teams that are pushing the envelope for that excellence that we were talking about. I think winning a national championship in women’s soccer is probably at the most competitive level it has ever been and that is great for soccer.
JK: Being in the Bay Area, you see a lot of great teams come into town for soccer. Stanford is obviously right down the road. How do you see things shaping up as the postseason approaches?
BC: I think, again, you can never count out the teams that have been there before because experience has proven to be something that is very valuable. So, you have North Carolina, Stanford, Santa Clara and even though Portland isn’t having a great year, I think it is a team that has the potential to do well in the tournament. But then you have the teams that you are talking about. You have Milwaukee, Marquette and Oklahoma State. Santa Clara University always stays near and dear to my heart because that is my Alma mater and my husband coaches there. I think there are a lot of teams out there that can really push for the championship. I think that makes this year’s tournament and who makes it into this year’s tournament very interesting. It’s also a wonderful opportunity for soccer this year because soccer has been put into a different category of scoring for the Capital One Cup. So I think it gives soccer a lot of credibility and I love that.
JK: Speaking of Santa Clara, you were there when Leslie Osborne’s jersey got retired. How was that?
BC: It was awesome. Leslie was the fourth jersey that has been retired. They of course started with the old lady, so that was mine. Then they did AlyWagner and Danielle Slaton, two local Bay Area players who played and won a national championship at Santa Clara. And then to see Leslie, who has of course had a wonderful career outside of Santa Clara with the national team and in WPS and continues to have a wonderful career, it’s exciting for the university to recognize the student-athletes for their contribution to the university and the athletic department. And it is exciting for the individual.
JK: You mention the Bay Area. Back in August the San Francisco Giants honored the 10th anniversary of the Bay Area CyberRay’s 2001 Founders Cup Championship. Does it feel like 10 years?
BC: Oh gosh, no. It doesn’t feel like 10 years. Maybe that is because I stay on the soccer field and I stay connected to the players that I played with and these younger players that are coming through. I try to stay current with the game. But, time does go by. I think the memories are still as strong as they were. Anytime you run into an old teammate or somebody who played in the WUSA, those memories come shooting back very quickly. San Jose is actually doing a wonderful tribute to the ‘City of Champions.’ They are honoring the San Jose CyberRays and the San Jose Earthquakes at city hall with a display.
JK: Is there anything that stands out to you from the WUSA days as a best memory besides that 2001 championship?
BC: I have to say the first game. Being at RFK, which is obviously a very special place for soccer in this country. It’s held many international games – some very important international games. It’s also been home to (WUSA and) MLS. I think the fans are outstanding. So the crowd that we had that first game, that inaugural game of the CyberRays versus the Freedom, was spectacular. Of course the championship the first year; And I think ultimately how hard the players and the front offices worked to make the league stay around and really what the players specifically were willing to give up to make the league survive. I don’t know if other leagues and the players would be as willing to give up so much just to participate and I commend all of the players and all of the general managers for trying to find a solution.
To read more about that 2001 Founders Cup Championship, check out this look back at the match.
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