LaFontaine-Kussmann An Inspiration At Washington

By Loni Hinton

University of Washington senior goalkeeper Jorde LaFontaine-Kussmann was recognized by Soccer Buzz as the No. 12 recruit in the nation coming out of high school. She was named Pac-10 Player of the Week on October 12. But her biggest accomplishment didn't happen on the soccer field.

She has also conquered cancer.

And those battles she has fought off the field have made her a standout among her teammates, competitors and fans.

When the Huskies travel to face the California Golden Bears on October 15, she will step on a field that is full of memories.

LaFontaine-Kussmann started her collegiate soccer career at Cal as the typical energetic freshman ready to do battle in the dynamic Pac-10 Conference. But that first year was full of surprises.

First: adjusting to a new head coach. LaFontaine-Kussmann was recruited her senior year of high school by Kevin Boyd, who was later replaced as head coach at Cal by Neil McGuire. For most collegiate prospects, the head coach of a program weighs heavily upon their decision.

"I came into the program expecting the leadership of Coach Boyd, but it didn't change my motivation to work hard," LaFontaine-Kussmann said.

As a top-20 recruit, LaFontaine-Kussmann had high expectations, but unfortunately, her performance was weaker than she had hoped. As she toiled through her freshman season, fighting for the starting goalkeeper position, she was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

Shortly thereafter, she chose to aggressively embark on the radiation and chemotherapy treatment schedule. She finished her treatments by April of that year and was back to full throttle physical training in May.

"The workouts were harder than I had expected," LaFontaine-Kussmann said. "After the treatments I had lost about 20 pounds of muscle and it made me realize that getting back into the game was going to take a lot of dedication and faith."

Because she wasn't able to play in any games, LaFontaine-Kussmann decided to redshirt in 2008. She slowly worked her way back into the starting line-up in her sophomore year. After a grueling pre-season exercise and training program, LaFontaine-Kussmann helped the Golden Bears pull off major wins against Arizona and Arizona State. The wins fueled her desire for more success, but she wanted to explore other options for continuing her soccer career.

"My time at Cal was well spent, I miss all of my old teammates," she said. "They were an amazing support system, but there wasn't a goalie specific coach."

Soon after their first round loss to the Florida Gators at the NCAA tournament, LaFontaine-Kussmann filed with the NCAA to withdraw from Cal's women's soccer program. After the clearing process, and knowing she still wanted to play soccer at a Division-I school, her old stomping grounds became very appealing.

Being a Tacoma, Wash., native, LaFontaine-Kussmann had Husky blood running through her veins and called on head coach Lesle Gallimore to talk about coming to play for Washington. After navigating through a long appeal process with the NCAA and not being eligible to play for an entire academic year, LaFontaine-Kussmann was cleared to compete at Washington this season.

Now a senior and the starting goalkeeper, LaFontaine-Kussmann is helping the "Woof Pack" Husky defense shut down the offenses of opposing Pac-10 rivals. She recently received Pac-10 Player of the Week honors after dominating Arizona State with seven impressive saves in a 1-0 victory. She's finally able to use all of the energy that accumulated during her time recovering and waiting to play. But there's more to her flame than merely pent-up energy. She is thrilled to be playing with the players and coaches she knows best.

"I had almost played my whole pre-collegiate carrier with at least half the team," she said. "Amy Griffin is the goalie coach here and she had previously coached me in the Olympic Development Program. She has always been a close confidant and I feel that being at Washington is like being with my family. It just feels right."

The battle with cancer not only changed her life, but redefined her athletic career. She has become stronger, more focused and appreciative of the playing experience.

"I play for the love of the game. It reminds me of what it felt like when I first started playing," Fontaine-Kussmann said. "I am definitely more confident in 'My House' [the goal] than I was before."

LaFontaine-Kussmann has one more year of eligibility after this year, and as a medical anthropology major, she has plans to help others when she wraps up her playing career.

"I really want to go into nursing," she said. "After all the time I spent in the hospital, it really helped me decide that I want to help people and I like the go-go-go atmosphere."

With a strong cast of teammates, including center back Kendyl Pele and defensive midfielder Kate Deines, LaFontaine-Kussmann is feeling good about the direction of the Huskies.

"I love all the girls on the team, we share an untraceable bond. As long as we keep playing our game," she said, "this season has unlimited possibilities."

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