By Rob Daniels
Normally, admission of extreme fatigue – especially after a loss – is considered a bad idea in competitive sports. Some athletes would sooner cop to complete ineptitude than to exhaustion. Two weekends ago, however, UNCG soccer player Karin Sendel had no problems telling her coach, “I want to go to bed for a week.”
And nobody dared call her a slacker.
Sendel always knew juggling was an important skill in soccer, but she didn’t realize it would be quite like this. In a recent eight-day span, she played in three games for two teams against two esteemed opponents, and she flew 12,278 miles to do it.
She represented UNCG, the Israeli national team and the Spartans again. In a few weeks, she may repeat the process. If anybody’s more prepared for Southern Conference play than the Spartan midfielder, they’ll have to produce a passport and an itinerary to prove it.
“This experience is fantastic for her, and, ultimately, it helps us, as well,” said UNCG coach Steve Nugent, whose team, tested by the nation’s toughest schedule so far, opened league play against Chattanooga on Saturday.
The dual obligation – “vertical integration,” as Nugent calls it – was always a possibility, and it’s something everybody talked about as Sendel transferred from Ohio State, which she helped to its first NCAA College Cup in 2010.
Her homeland requires military service, which Sendel completed. So it stands to reason that she might also feel the pull of her national team, which has embarked on a year-long qualification process for Euro 2013, the continental championship set for Sweden.
On Friday, Sept. 9, Sendel and the Spartans took on American soccer royalty in a 2-0 loss to perpetual NCAA champion North Carolina at Duke’s tournament. She stayed up that night, realizing the pointlessness of slumber with a 6:15 a.m. flight from Raleigh to Newark (438 miles) and another from Newark to Tel Aviv (13 hours, 5,701 miles) pending.
She made the connections and arrived in Israel around 9:30 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 11, at which point she had slept for approximately four of the previous 48 hours. Nothing was going to be easy. For Israel, the first qualifying-round test would be against France, a semifinalist in this past summer’s World Cup.
After undergoing routine conditioning tests, Sendel practiced with her newest team at 8 p.m. Her college teammates were about to kick off against Duke. The national team game was played on Wednesday, Sept. 14, and it didn’t go well. The French claimed a 5-0 win in which Sendel came off the bench and played the final 31 minutes.
To the unaffiliated, one-third of one game doesn’t sound like great reason to travel halfway around the planet. But then again, Sendel doesn’t think like most of us.
“Playing for the national team is always an honor,” she said. “I really can’t go to the coach before and say, ‘If I’m not in the starting lineup, I’m not going to come.’ It’s not something I can underestimate or have conditions for.”
The next morning, she was back on a plane bound for the States. She returned to campus at 10 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 15, crashed for the night and made it to her first class, Psychology 318, which really is titled “Belief in ‘Weird’ Things.” And by that point, Sendel was probably susceptible to belief in any number of weird things.
“Right now, we’re studying research methods,” she said. “Later on, astrology and numerology.”
Still there was no break. On the night of Friday, Sept. 16, the Spartans hosted Georgia, for which Nugent served as an assistant before coming to UNCG in February. It was yet another game with an elite opponent, and Sendel logged 87 minutes against the Bulldogs.
“And she was very good,” Nugent said. “Arguably our best player against Georgia.”
Much as she wanted to, Sendel couldn’t just spend the weekend in bed. She did miss a few days of class, after all. “I’m still working on catching up,” she said in the middle of this week, “but it’s not overwhelming.”
That’s probably a testament to Sendel’s organizational and intellectual skills more than anything, and Nugent retains his belief that international competition – particularly against a world power such as France – indirectly benefits the Spartans in this case.
The SoCon is next, and the Spartans have been tested to a degree unseen in the rest of the league. They’ve played UNC, Virginia Tech, Duke and Georgia, among others, and their goal in starting league play is to look at the bigger picture rather than the overall record so far.
“We know the results didn’t match what happened,” Sendel said. “If you don’t hate to lose, you can’t be a great athlete. But I think we feel pretty confident and comfortable in coming into the conference and knowing what we can do.”
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