Women’s soccer: No pain, no gain

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September 18, 2009

12:09 AM

It starts in the tendon that connects the calf to the tibia, in the receptors that act as the first line of communication between the calf and the nerve. For whatever reason, those roots get tired and no longer tell the brain to relax the calf muscles. The muscle fibers become hyperactive, and the calf contracts like a python. Pain shoots through the calf, the leg collapses, and sophomore back Diana Weigel is on the ground once again, battling her own body.

A first-team all-state selection in Virginia’s largest high school division, Weigel came to the College and started as a freshman on a veteran-dominated team.

In her second collegiate match, Weigel assisted on the game-winning goal from then-senior Claire Zimmeck in a 2-1 victory over Syracuse. She would find Zimmeck again for the game-winning goal in a 2-1 victory over N.C. State, one of her four assists on the season.

Her signature game came against Drexel, where she scored two goals in a seven-minute span to lead the Tribe to a 2-0 victory over the Dragons. She would start in eight of the remaining 10 games at the left midfielder position, scoring four goals on the way to earning Soccer Buzz freshman All-American second team and CAA All-Rookie team honors.

Weigel’s four goals and four assists last season left her fourth on the team in points and set the stage for a breakout sophomore season. But Diana Weigel has always had to battle, if not with the opponent, then with her own self-confidence.

Since her senior year of high school, Weigel has battled cramps in her calves while on the soccer field. It is a psychological condition as much as a physical ailment, and limited her to 55 minutes played per match last season.

“I went to the doctors, and they said it may be psychological; that I tense up when I play because it only happens during games,” Weigel said. “I’m still trying to figure that out mentally.”

In her first match of this season against UNC-Charlotte, Weigel had to leave in the 61st minute due to cramping in her calves. Following that match, she has played 90 minutes or longer in three out of six matches, already two more than last season.

“I eat bananas. I drink Powerade, water,” Weigel said. “I eat as much as I can. I try to stuff myself a few hours before a game, so it digests. If we have a game at 7 p.m., we have a pregame meal at 3 p.m., so I try to eat as much as I can there. By doing that I have more calories to burn.”

The key might not be calories, but confidence. Head Coach John Daly believes Weigel is beginning to slowly acquire the mental fortitude to match her talent.

“It could be that [she puts pressure on herself],” Daly said. “She stepped it up in club soccer. She played on a pretty good team during the summer, and I thought that would have helped her believe in herself a little bit more.”

Believing in herself was only half the battle. She was also forced to switch to a new position.

For the first time since her days playing club soccer, Weigel will play left back. A talented left-footed player, Daly moved Weigel to the backline in order to compensate for the loss of two senior defenders from last year.

“I’d rather not have [moved her]. I’d rather have her playing further up the field because she scored a couple of important goals last year,” Daly said. “But we graduated our two outside backs, and right now Diana is the best one for it.”

Through the first six matches of the season, Weigel has been a part of a backline that has allowed just over one goal per match. Weigel has also managed to remain a threat offensively as the Tribe’s 4-3-3 attack forces defenders to push up the field.

“She’s a pretty smart player, she’s quite quick, and she’s got a pretty good left foot,” Daly said. “One of the challenges you get whenever you get a left back who hasn’t got a left foot is that they are very easy to pressure.”

In addition to the position change, Weigel has entered this season with short hair and a much more assertive look. But has that style carried over to her self-professed vocal personality?

“A little bit, but that’s still not saying much,” Daly said with a laugh. “She’s not a leader in a vocal sense. She is one of those who goes about and gets the job done, and that’s what I want from her.”

However, Weigel should not be mistaken for a wallflower. The only player on the team this season with a yellow card to her name, she plays hard and fast, unafraid to draw a foul.

That combination adds an essential element of speed and a strong left foot to the back line. For the Tribe to advance far this season, Weigel will be counted on to battle opposing forwards on the left flank.

It shouldn’t be hard. After sorting out herself, defending against opposing players should come easy.

_Read a From the Newsroom blog post about Jack Lambert’s writing process for this article here._

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