Buckland, Beavers Ready To Strike
By Anthony Casson
Oregon State redshirt junior Chelsea Buckland enters this week's Nike Portland Invitational with no goals, which is something of a head-scratcher for the talented striker, considering the Beavers are five games into the season.
Her current drought draws attention because she has never been an average player. She led the team with 10 goals last season and led with 7 the season before, when she started just one game.
Life before OSU for Buckland was filled with positives.
By her junior year in high school, in hometown Vancouver, B.C., she had been contacted by 32 soccer programs from every collegiate level. When she decided on Oregon State, the Beavers were hobbling around the bottom of the conference standings.
"Do I want to go to [20-time national champion] North Carolina and sit on the bench, maybe play my junior, senior year, win a national championship but know that I didn't get anything out of it?" she asked herself during the recruiting process. "Do I want to go to school that is Division-II and be the superstar, the best player out there and not really get better?
"Or do I want to go to school where I can find that medium and be able to go and make a change and build a program?"
She visited OSU and then made her decision to come to Corvallis to take help things to a new level, a level the Beaver community hadn't yet experienced, but was working towards.
Buckland is a confident athlete, but even she understood it would take more than one highly-touted forward to bust the gates to a new world for the Beavers.
During her visit, she met future teammate Brittany Galindo, and the two have been roommates since they arrived on campus three years ago. Galindo is OSU's critical enforcer on the back line, the self-proclaimed butt-kicker - mentally and physically - who keeps her team in line and focused.
Each had boiled blood about the Beavers situation at the bottom rung of conference soccer. They agreed to "do something about it," as did the other influential members of that freshman class, like star goalkeeper Colleen Boyd.
The talented class, coupled with then-new coach Linus Rhode, OSU looked bound for progression.
"We changed our mentality," Buckland said. "We changed our training program. We changed our philosophy of the game. Our goals as a team changed a lot to be able to look forward to success."
Buckland is often the center of attention when it comes to Beaver fans and their soccer, especially after the team's results from last season, a school-record 16-4-1.
She traveled with the Canadian national team to Germany for the women's World Cup this summer. It was her reward for devoting six months of her life training in Italy - cutting herself from school, friends and family.
The Canadian Soccer Association contacted her in January and invited her to train with the team and work for a spot on the World Cup roster. It was her dream come true, and she joined the all-Italian staff and fellow players in Rome, the first week of February.
"It was literally eat, sleep, soccer for six months," she said. "And you're putting your body through stress and pain."
At 21 years old, she was the youngest player on the team. Many of her teammates were closer to 30 years old and had years more experience on the pitch.
The opportunity brought tears of joy from Buckland and her parents, who were also fierce competitors when they were younger. The family fought through years of traveling, high costs and social sacrifice to keep Chelsea in the spotlight - the more recruiting tournaments the better.
"Wearing [my] country's colors was completely amazing," she said. "I was so honored to even be there and be able to represent my country. I know I didn't roster, I didn't play at the World Cup, but being there and having those experiences with and meeting some of the best players in the world made it memorable."
But now her attention has returned to the Pac-12 Conference and life as a college student. She is back with teammates as a devoted Beaver forward.
"I was supposed to go to the Pan American Games in October, but I said I can't go," she said. "I have Pac-12 [games], this is my team, and we are going to win it all this year."
The conference is full of talent. OSU's players don't count themselves as separate from that pool, either. But if they're going to win a championship, they need Buckland to be the talent people expect.
"She seemed like she had matured a little bit, being in that environment," said Rhode, her head coach. "I think it's important for her [to bring to the field] whatever little bits or pieces she picked up during that time with the national team."
Talent does draw attention, and not just from fans. Buckland is pulling opposing defenders and giving her teammates opportunities to score. Still, people await a score of her own.
Galindo, stuck on that back line as a defender, said she pointed out to Buckland that they both had zero goals. She likes to get into Buckland's ear sometimes.
"Chelsea didn't like that one," laughed Galindo.
The class that wanted to change it all is doing everything it can to follow through. It has already been successful, arguably creating more major history in the past two seasons than OSU women's soccer has seen in its entire existence.
Buckland is there to help. She has the knowledge of a coach and calls herself a "soccer nerd." She also has uncommon credentials.
OSU awaits the striker's full return, but her team knows it's coming.