The girls varsity soccer team is not having the spring soccer season it had long anticipated, but the players did have a wide-ranging, one-hour conversation, full of stories and wisdom, with two-time Olympic champion Angela Hucles Mangano '96.
And right from the opening moments, when the student-athletes “arrived" on the Zoom chat, dressed in their team jerseys, it was clear that it would be an event they'd remember all of their lives.
They were awestruck and no wonder: Hucles Mangano is a bona fide global soccer star. A midfielder, she played in 109 total matches for the U.S. Women's National Team, winning two gold medals (2004 in Athens; 2008 in Beijing) and finishing third in two World Cups. Since retiring from soccer in 2009, she has served in an array of prominent positions in organizations promoting sports for women, including her current position as top advisor for women's soccer for the United Soccer League (USL).
Yet Hucles Mangano immediately put the girls at ease with her approachable demeanor and her own Bulldog spirit, wearing a sweater in blue and orange. She opened by reminding them of their many strengths and the ways their training as athletes could help them remain strong and positive through the challenge of COVID-19.
“How do you approach every single day? How are you going to approach this as a potential opportunity?" she asked. “The athlete's mentality will be the key to your success."
She said athletes always have goals, both short-term and long-term, and they have learned, more than most people, how to deal with discomfort. Even if the notion of physical discomfort is different from the stresses brought on by social distancing, she noted that the training that these players are doing will help them overcome these hurdles.
“You have been training for this," she said. “It is okay to feel sad and not great all the time, but you can't stay in that rut."
In the course of a lively Q and A with the players, she talked candidly about challenges that she had faced and vanquished in her career. She was a star player at the University of Virginia, tallying 59 goals and 19 game-winners, and she still holds the UVA women's records for goals, game-winning goals, and total points. Yet when she got to the U.S. National Team, she noted, “everyone around is the best, and I was mostly a bench player."
But Hucles Mangano said that she stayed true to her training regimen and making the right choices, even in the little moments, because she knew she had to be ready to step up. One of those defining moments came at the 2008 Olympics, when Abby Wambach broke her leg and Hucles moved from backup to a starting position. She made the most of it, scoring four goals, including two goals against Japan in the semifinals.
She talked about her evolution as a leader, and during that portion of the discussion, her former teacher-coaches chimed in with details from her NA playing career. Director of Athletics Chad Byler, Girls Varsity Head Coach Rich Peccie, and Assistant Coach Kevin Denson--all three of them coached and watched her evolution as a young athlete.
Coach Peccie recalled that a former teacher-coach, Kevin Sims, used to shout at her from the sidelines, “Be selfish!" encouraging her to keep the ball and score. That reminder from her past prompted Hucles to reflect more broadly about that precise challenge in her own life, as she recognized that she had to be “a little bit selfish to get to be successful," even though she had been taught, and truly believes in, the value of unselfish behavior.
Throughout the conversation, she reminded the young women about finding their own distinct paths as leaders, particularly during this time of global crisis. “We are now on a universal team; we're now on a world team," she said. “We have to help one another and bring one another along."