Healthy Waitley Coming Into Her Own
Oct. 6, 2009
McKenna Waitley is not taking her junior year of soccer for granted.
It's not because her knee is back at full strength in September, instead of still recuperating like last year when her torn MCL was healing.
A clean bill of health and an ever expanding importance in the Washington attack is exciting, but it's the privilege and joy of playing that was hammered home for Waitley this summer.
The women's soccer team traveled to Brazil this summer, watching professional matches as well as playing in scrimmages while in the South American country. But perhaps the most lasting memory of the trip was the time the team spent playing with Brazilian children from the slums. Treated like superstars, Waitley and the Huskies gave away Husky gear and spent time with people who live in poverty, but still find joy in the game of soccer.
'I realized how the hardships in their lives make them thankful for the game of soccer,' said Waitley. 'They don't look at soccer as a game but as a lifestyle. It is important in their everyday lives and I think our team took that home with us and we have a different perspective on life and how soccer is fun and should always be a positive thing.'
It's been easy to stay positive about Washington soccer early in the season. The Huskies return plenty of talent from a 2008 squad that went to the NCAA tournament, including Waitley and senior star Veronica Perez. Washington has jumped out to a 6-2-1 record, including an impressive 1-0 victory over nationally-ranked Illinois.
Although she hasn't netted yet this year, a problem that Waitley and Coach Leslie Gallimore have discussed even though the season is only nine games old, Waitley has become an important player for Washington. A versatile skill set has allowed her to move around from forward to central midfield and now to the wing.
Playing outside midfielder allows Waitley to see the field better than a forward and take advantage of one of her best skills, finding open teammates.
'I like to pass,' said Waitley. 'I like to find open people. I've always been good at that.'
She has excelled at it in 2009. Waitley leads the team with three assists on the year. This season will be important for Waitley and the Huskies. Her first healthy season since freshman year coincides with a program trying to reestablish itself on the national stage.
Aside from the production aspect of her game, she is also taking leadership responsibility as an upperclassman.
'I am starting to feel like am upperclassmen,' said Waitley. 'I feel like more of a leader on the field and off the field. I've gotten into more of a routine of everything we do. It's more comfortable.'
'I feel like this year more than anything our team has been really close. I feel like Brazil brought everyone together. One night, we went to the beach and got into this huge circle with all the coaches and just talked about everything.'
Whatever connection the team feels despite age will be needed as Washington will rely on talented players from every class. Luckily, the newcomers have played well in non-conference play and veterans like Kendyl Pele, Kate Deines and Waitley are back.
The San Diego native has been through a lot of transition over the last few years, moving thousands of miles away from a family that includes six sisters, four of which are 11-year old quadruplets, dealt with injury and has now cemented a place as a crucial player in the team's success.
Waitley is interested in marketing and design, but has other plans after she graduates. She looks up to former Stanford star and current Chicago Red Star Natalie Spilger because of a friendship with Spilger's younger brother and her success in the newly founded Women's Professional Soccer league have raised Waitley's interest in post-college soccer. Former Huskies Hope Solo and Tina Frimpong-Ellerston have also inspired Waitley to try to extend her playing days beyond college.
'I think after college, if not here, I would want to go to Europe and play on some of the women's teams there. I know [former Husky] Dani Bridges went and did that. I think in Europe they have more women's teams. That would be a good experience because I like to travel, especially after Brazil,' said Waitley.
With a more worldly view and a clean bill of health, Waitley is ready to be a leader of the Huskies this year. Expectations run high for the squad, and togetherness forged out of an international experience and a group of talented players like Waitley have the entire team ready for whatever the rest of the 2009 season has to offer.
'Our whole team is really excited about this year because we have started off really strong and continuing from last year we want to make the tournament,' said Waitley. 'Those are our long term goals. We just go at it one weekend at a time.'