Once you find a remove from your college days, there’s a rite of passage many adults go through: Traveling to some far-flung spot to watch your alma mater compete in a very big game.
For Danielle Slaton, it was Cary, North Carolina to see Santa Clara win their second national title — the first since she captained the Broncos to the 2001 title.
Slaton was in the stands for Monday’s final, alongside notable Santa Clara alums Aly Wagner, Brandi Chastain, Leslie Osborne and Jordan Angeli, at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park to watch Santa Clara outlast Florida State in a penalty shootout and win the 2020 NCAA Championship.
There was a rowdy supporters section for the Broncos last night — before they hopped on their flight home, @daniellevslaton, @alywagner and @LeslieOsborne12 all called me from the airport to relive an epic night at the #CollegeCup.— Meg Linehan (@itsmeglinehan) May 18, 2021
At @TheAthleticSCCR: https://t.co/SPAYMc2jcZ pic.twitter.com/pJt89EFfoM
“I think the two adjectives that come to mind mostly are pride and old,” Slaton told Center Line Soccer on Thursday with a laugh. “Just so proud of what this team has accomplished and I’m so glad I got to be there, I mean I think I would have been kicking myself had I decided to not get on the plane.
“What they accomplished is special, it is going to be a big part of their lives and their careers and their stories for the rest of their lives, as it was and has been for me. I kind of can’t believe it’s been 20 years [since I won the national championship]. In many ways it doesn’t feel like it was that long ago but it’s a really special sorority to be in, when you’ve won the national championship. I mean it’s such a hard thing to accomplish and to accomplish in a year like this is even harder. So credit goes to these women and all that they were able to do this year,” she added.
With the United States emerging from the coronavirus pandemic, fans are returning to games at all levels of the sport, and Slaton said the atmosphere for the title game was something she felt keenly she was contributing to.
“We were sitting right behind their bench, it’s a very intimate stadium, so you felt like when you were yelling, they can actually hear you,” Slaton explained. “It wasn’t like you were in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament where you’re up in the nosebleeds, like you’re right there so I felt even more compelled to play a role, to cheer as loud as I could to let the players on the field know that we were with them and we were supporting them, and that we believed in them. It was just a bucket list kind of moment, like a real dream, dream trip, dream ending to something that’s awesome for our Santa Clara program.”
With the likes of Stanford and Cal not even making the women’s soccer tournament this year, Santa Clara ended up flying the flag for soccer in California with the national title, but Slaton said that to her, on the national stage it’s more about flying that flag than having local bragging rights.
“I think there’s always rivalries, but I don’t know that when it comes to the NCAA Tournament if standing on top of the California schools it’s something you’re really going after and I think that once you can get outside of your conference or get outside of the immediate competition, of those who are in your backyard — I mean, we always wanted to beat Stanford, we always want to beat Cal, don’t get me wrong, but once you get to the NCAA tournament, there’s something bigger about West Coast soccer, about California soccer, about taking down the ACC or the SEC or the Big Ten,” Slaton said.
“So, there’s a little bit of unity, despite the competition amongst all of us, when it comes to the NCAA tournament,” she explained. “So I don’t really think of it too much in terms of competition, you know, getting to the Final Four, being the best school in California, because the reality is the better we are in California, like the more competition there is at the youth level, the more competition we have amongst each other at the college level and maybe even the NWSL level at some point, the better soccer players we produce, and the better soccer there is. There’s a reason that California is a hotbed of women’s soccer, it’s because we play each other all the time, and there’s really great development here so yeah you want us to be the best, but I also think too that a rising tide floats all boats, and to me if California soccer is better, that means Santa Clara soccer is better, too.”
Slaton was born and raised in the Bay Area, and has settled back down in the region with her family. Now working as a color commentator on San Jose Earthquakes matches, among other broadcasting jobs, she’s seen the rise and fall of women’s professional leagues in this country but is eager to see the NWSL come to the Bay Area.
“I think I would be the first one to buy season tickets,” she said. “I would be the first one in line, and I think of that because California is such a hotbed for women’s soccer but it’s my home. I mean, I was born in East San Jose, I went to school at Santa Clara, this is where I fell in love with the game, where I learned and developed in the game. And so, to see an NWSL team here would be a dream come true. And I really hope it happens.”
And while there’s a local, emotional dimension for those hopes of a Bay Area pro team, Slaton explains it’s all part of a larger ongoing growth process for the women’s game.
“There’s a lot of great cities and places to put these teams. I mean, women’s soccer is growing, not only in the United States, but globally and so I think that there are a lot of great cities who represent the NWSL well already. And I think there’s a lot of potential for other cities to do the same,” she said. “I think we see the investment starting to happen more and more, whether it’s in the United States and sponsors, and attention and media, but also globally, you’re hearing stories about more investment on the women’s side in the UK. I mean, shoot, we can watch the FAWSL on television now, pretty easily. So, to me, I think that the growth of the game is a positive thing.
“I don’t really look at it as it’s been too too long or it’s been too slow [to get NWSL into California]. I just think it’s all part of the plan and the process where women’s soccer needs to grow in many, many respects, and we’re seeing that happen. And I hope that California and all that is California and the Bay Area can continue to play a significant role in the landscape of women’s soccer,” Slaton added.
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