FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – It is the fall of 2012 and a pair of fresh new Lumberjacks, Emily Wadell and Lauren Doud, are among a class of 14 Northern Arizona soccer freshmen hoping to be key contributors to a team coming off a three-win season, equaling the program's inaugural 1997 squad for fewest wins in a season. Like the other dozen brand new faces, Wadell and Doud carried impressive prep resumes with them to Flagstaff.
However, their opportunities to contribute that season were few and far between. Unlike two of their fellow classmates, Demi Schmieder and Haley Wingender, who were the team leaders in points, Wadell and Doud combined to play just five games to begin their collegiate careers. In fact their combined time on the field was 71 minutes – or in other words less than one 90 minute game.
After the season, it was only natural for the pair to start doubting themselves. It was only a year prior that they were among the best players on their respective high school teams – Wadell an All-League player at Yucaipa High School in Yucaipa, Calif. and Doud an All-State player at Pinnacle High School in Phoenix – and yet they could barely scratch out playing time at the Division I level.
"I doubted if this was the right place for me," Wadell said. "I doubted if I was even good enough to play Division I soccer. Eventually I realized I was being too hard on myself and I wasn't taking the time I needed to become the player I was. I was trying to rush it all in my first year and (head coach) Andre (Luciano) always talks about it being a four-year process. I needed that first year to adjust to the college game and find my place on and off the field."
"I remember having a talk with Andre after my freshman year and he sat me down and told me he wasn't sure if I'll ever play at this level," Doud added. "It made me question myself and I had to make a decision if I wanted to pursue this or consider other options. It never really crossed my mind to quit or leave though because I've wanted to come to NAU since I was eight years old. It's just difficult coming out of high school being one of the better players and then you come here and it's like an all-star team with the best players from every team across the country."
Self-doubt in their abilities crept in for both, yet neither decided to transfer or give up the game they had loved for years. At this point, the narrative for both would change and the outlook would brighten albeit a year faster for one over the other.
Wadell during her second season found her way into the starting lineup in 16 games while appearing in all 19. A key member of the 2013 team who finished second in the conference during the regular season, she recorded three points notching her first career goal against Weber State, the eventual conference champion, and first career assist against Eastern Washington. Following her freshman season in which she played just 61 total minutes across four games, she played 70 or more minutes in 13 games as a sophomore.
"As a freshman I had big goals and I wanted to be an impact player from the start," Wadell said. "I didn't adjust to the college game – it's faster and the girls are bigger – and it was overwhelming. I accepted if I wanted to be the player I wanted to be, I had to give myself at every training, push myself at every conditioning and open myself up to the coaching staff. When I did that my entire experience changed and I came into my sophomore year the most fit I had ever been. I did well in preseason and found my spot on the team."
Wadell's sophomore season may have been her breakout season, but her junior campaign last year was her best. Playing in all 22 games with 17 starts, Wadell scored two goals and recorded an assist for a total of five points. Her transformation from sparingly-used freshman to a vital junior was summed up in the Big Sky Championship game versus Idaho State where she scored the title game's first goal in NAU's championship clinching 2-1 victory earning her a spot on the Big Sky All-Tournament Team.
"When Emily first came here, I think she was scared and wasn't sure of herself," Luciano said. "There were days I didn't think she was going to make it but the one thing about Emily that has always stood out is that she has never quit on anything. She might've not finished in the time needed but she never stopped. She would be more willing to crawl across a line than stop and that has been her career at NAU."
While Wadell's career – and playing time – took off in 2013, Doud's career struggled to leave the ground during her second go-around although her field time did increase even if it was a minor jump. Following her first year in which she saw action in a single game against San Jose State totaling 10 minutes, Doud appeared in three games for a total of 27 minutes as a sophomore. A step in the right direction it was, but not nearly as big as that of Wadell.
Still Doud never stopped working and last season would be the year it all paid dividends. Doud made seven starts and played in 21 games, quintupling her game total from her first two years in the process. While her playing time increased, consider that the Phoenix product made six of her seven starts in the final six games of the season – a span which includes the final two games of the regular season, NAU's three Big Sky Tournament games and its NCAA Tournament game. In those seven games, NAU went 6-1 with its only loss coming at the hands of Arizona State in the NCAA College Cup.
"Lauren is a fighter and I asked her to be really patient because I felt like she wasn't ready to play at the speed that we needed to play at," Luciano said. "Her fitness wasn't anywhere near where it needed to be and she believed in the process. Once she put the trust in us that we were going to do the best for her, she embraced it and changed completely. When Lauren started playing consistently for us, she was a big reason we won the games that we did last year."
Like Wadell, Doud made a huge impact during the Lumberjacks' run in Missoula, Mont. at the Big Sky Tournament picking up her first career assist in NAU's quarterfinal game versus Eastern Washington in the first of three straight wins to the title. Doud finished her junior season with two assists for her first two career points.
"It took a lot of will power and dedication but my teammates pushed me," Doud said. "They helped me strive to be my best and achieve something better for myself to help the team eventually. It was difficult as a freshman to sit on the bench and be a cheerleader but I'm happy I got my time to showcase myself. It was satisfying to find my place on the field and on this team and help this team achieve such a great goal we had set for ourselves in winning a championship."
Their hard work and perseverance has not only paid off individually, but they are two of the many examples on a team full of them. Since that three-win 2011 season – the year before Wadell, Doud and the Class of 2012 joined the program – NAU has increased its win total from five wins to 11 to 12 last season culminating in the program's third Big Sky Tournament championship.
This past spring, Doud and Wadell were two of the team's three team captains and will be counted on this season for leadership as the Lumberjacks start their title defense next Tuesday when the team officially reports for the start of the 2015 season.
Having both traveled the long and difficult road, the former freshmen who rarely left the bench are ready to fully embrace their roles as senior leaders in their final season.
"It's such a high honor to be leader," Doud said. "It's nice to know that if my teammates come to me, I've been through everything. In high school I was injured and in college I didn't play much my first two years. On this team, with 39 players on the roster there will be people who don't travel or sit on the bench and I can be there for them if they need someone to look to if they don't know if they can continue on."
"My role is to be a positive hard worker," Wadell added. "Sometimes things aren't going the right way and we can't become negative or get down on ourselves. There's going to be days when practice is hard and the coaches will get on us, but my responsibility is to keep the team up, keep working hard and never show a negative attitude. Everything my teammates have seen from me the last three years, I plan on carrying out my senior year."
Adversity as a freshman does not mean college has to end. It might derail some, but it never took Wadell and Doud off the tracks. Instead, adversity proved to be just the opening chapter of what has already been a great three-year story. With all of their experiences as proof of how far they've come, Wadell and Doud's leadership at the team's forefront is a great recipe that may allow these seniors to close their masterpieces with another championship ring.
I've always felt that your captains and leaders have to be people who can relate to not just one type of player," Luciano said. "Sometimes for someone who's been a starter, it's difficult for them to understand the mindset of someone who isn't because they've never been through that. But for Lauren and Emily, it's been such a process and I feel they can sense when someone is not at their mental-best in terms of their confidence. They understand what my thought process is and they can relate that to our younger players and that's so vital."
The fall of 2015 is now upon them and this pair of veteran Lumberjacks are members of a senior class ready to lead. They no longer need to hope to be key contributors because they are after deciding to not give up, to not give in.
They believed in Luciano's four-year process and are set to enter the final stage of it.