Perez Getting Her Kicks In Final Season

Sept. 18, 2009

By Sebastian Moraga
Gohuskies.com staff writer

This feature will appear in Saturday's football Gameday Program

With the UW women's soccer team just a few games into the 2009 season, several Husky players have already made their mark in the stat book.

Six different players have scored at least one goal for the Huskies. More surprisingly, the leading scorer so far is a bench player, Kelli Stewart, who has tallied three through Sept. 12. Even more surprisingly, only one of those tallies belongs to last year's leading scorer Veronica Perez.

Perez' opinion of the shared wealth? All's well that ends well.

'I hate it when people are like `Oh, you didn't score or get an assist today,'' she says. 'I'm like `I don't care! We won, though. That doesn't really matter.''

That team-first approach is one of the reasons why Perez has lettered in each of her three years at UW. A senior sociology major, Perez hopes to someday bring all those unselfish concepts learned in the classrooms and practice fields at Washington to the Women's Professional League and later on, to the coaching ranks.

'I think I'm a team player and I think I can get along,' she says of herself.

'My personality definitely meshes with other people, and if it doesn't, then I work with them.'

Before she hangs a whistle from her neck, the California native wants to hang a few medals first.

'I think we can go really far,' she says with a smile as bright as the lighthouse on Pigeon Point near her hometown of San Mateo, Calif. 'I definitely want to win the Pac-10, maybe, or go far in the [NCAA] tournament.'

Although the team kicked off 2009 season with a 3-2-0 record, those three wins came with a steep price: Three minutes into the season, Kellye Joswick suffered a season-ending torn ACL. Three matches into the season, Hannah Greig suffered a dislocated kneecap.

Perez still believes in her team's chances. For starters, the injuries have forced bench players into the limelight and the team's play has remained steady, with two come-from-behind wins and strong second-half showings.

Seven of the team's eight goals have came after halftime.

'We think our team is pretty deep,' she says. 'So we have confidence in anyone coming off the bench. We're playing through it and I think we've been doing really well so far.'

The objective prior to this season's start was to lighten the scoring load off Perez and make teams worry about other players.

'It was kind of shocking to score all those goals,' Perez says of her 2008 season, when she scored 13 goals, including six game-winners.

Turning the 2009 Huskies into a team to beat and not a team with one player to beat has worked well so far. Other players are scoring and Perez is doing what she loves the most, pulling back to midfield, taking care of the ball and creating scoring opportunities.

'We have such a better team,' she says. 'Everyone's willing to do the extra work, everyone is being more tenacious -- they want to score, they want to win.'

Perez said that if she weren't a forward, she would love to be a center midfielder in the Argentinean vein. A playmaker that commands the offense treats the ball well and is a master at creating chances. No surprise then that her favorite player is Lionel Messi, an Argentine star deemed by many to be the successor of one of the greatest playmakers of all time -- Diego Maradona.

'He's little, and he can move. He's a team player and he's unselfish. I like him a lot,' she says of Messi, almost describing a male version of herself. The other positions don't even come close to holding the same allure for Perez. Neither defense, ('I get nutmegged all the time in practice,') nor goalie, ('It's really hard, scary.') attract her in the least.

Coaching, though, is a different story.

'My sister is U-15 right now, so I always go back home and help train her team,' she said.

Her love of coaching comes from her experiences with youth coaches in her native Bay Area.

'They changed my life,' she says.

The product of a working-class family, composed of a postal worker, a physical therapist and four daughters, Perez still managed to participate in soccer camps and matches, thanks in part to her coaches.

'I'm not like the richest person, so I couldn't afford going to all these tournaments and individual trainings,' she says. 'But they took me in, they saw that I wanted to get better and that soccer is really important to me. So they helped my family out and me by letting me play with them and join whenever I could. And they're doing it for my sister right now.'

Husky Head Coach Lesle Gallimore has also been an important influence for Perez.

'I think she's great,' Perez says. 'She wants us to be creative. She doesn't have like a set where she says `You - always stay in the middle.' She lets us just play soccer.'

So far, Gallimore's Huskies have been, if not dominant, at least the team setting the pace in their wins. In their 2-0 loss to Portland, they played like a contender against the No. 3 team in the nation. One play from that game still hasn't dissipated from Perez' memory -- the empty-netter she missed and which could have changed the course of the match.

'I was just thinking `just tap it in, all you need is to tap it in,'' she says of the play. 'And it just flew off my foot. Right when I kicked it, I was like, `that's not going in' You just know. But it's OK. I'll get it back.'

When Perez does get it back, you can bet she'll put it in the back of the net.

Sebastian Moraga is a broadcaster and writer for gohuskies.com. He can be reached at koogbasschi@hotmail.com

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