Kristin Schnurr: A minor setback for a major comeback
Are players being lured away from their “home” teams to play for higher profile teams in hopes of increasing exposure and securing a slot on a top college roster? Is it a matter of shallow loyalty and get-the-next-best-thing thinking?
Or do the top tier teams offer coaching and support and a style of play that naturally attracts the best talent?
One player who made a last-minute team-change decision has me rethinking these questions. Kristin Schnurr (class of 2015), who committed to Penn State as a sophomore, played all of her club soccer with VSA (Virginia Soccer Association) near her home in western Prince William County, Virginia, but she shifted to the McLean Youth Soccer ECNL team for the fall 2014 season.
That’s a big leap and a big drive, and a big change.
With Penn State already in her pocket, why rock the boat?
“I want to keep improving,” she told me by phone as she rode back from a recent visit at State. She could hardly contain her delight, having just watched them beat Virginia Tech and secure a spot in the Elite Eight of NCAA Tournament play. Kristin wants to make an immediate impact on that team.
“If you want to improve, you have to be on the right team to do it,” she says. “I was looking for a college environment, a place where I always have to compete for my spot, always need to be on top of my game.”
Schnurr had considered a change from VSA two years ago when there was a coaching change, but then decided to stay. She loved the coaches, and practice; even fitness was fun. They helped her to improve, including having her train with a boys team who needed a bit of convincing it was okay to challenge a girl in order to help her get better.
But things changed for her last spring when she decided to accept Penn State’s offer to arrive a semester early. Reporting in the spring would help her get acclimated and knock out a semester’s worth of credits before the heavy soccer schedule in the fall. This difficulty in transitioning to college life at the same time they go full speed with their new college team is a challenge to the new players each fall. There’s a lot of wisdom in coming early.
“We don’t offer this for every player, maybe 10 percent,” says Penn State head coach Erica Walsh. “We recognize the importance of coming in with your class and going through the orientation sessions. But if there is maturity and they seem ready, we may give them the choice. We just sketch out the options, but we’ll support them 100 percent in whatever decision they make.”
What kept churning in Kristin’s mind was advice offered by Walsh: “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
Schnurr realized she had become comfortable at VSA. She knew the other players, almost had ESP with them. She knew their moves, knew their runs, knew which foot they preferred. That’s part of what made her such an effective teammate, but it also made it easy to know how to defend them.
Easy and comfortable are not luxuries you can afford when you’re desperate to improve and have your sights set on the starting lineup at one of the top NCAA programs in the nation. Schnurr’s change of teams was not coach-driven, parent-driven or club-driven: It was player-driven.
“That’s the kind of player you’re looking for,” says Walsh, “one who’s looking to challenge herself like that.”
“I was really nervous when I first tried out [for McLean ECNL],” Schnurr admitted. “There were so many players and I didn’t know anyone. They all had different soccer personalities.” The comfort was gone.
Schnurr has a smile in her voice when she tells you that. No, it wasn’t Coach Walsh who wanted to see her move. It wasn’t McLean’s coach Nadir Moumen, either, though she says she appreciated his approach with the players and his ability to lighten the mood, recalling his casual congratulatory words in the high-five line after she was an opponent in a scrimmage: “Great game, Speedy.”
Schnurr has performed well with McLean ECNL this season and, thanks to roster flexibility, was in the lineup with McLean Green for the finals of the Virginia State Cup.
Then it happened.
She got knocked off balance while trying to control a ball in the air and came down awkwardly on her straightened leg.
“I heard a pop, but it didn’t really hurt that much and I could walk off the field,” she recalls. “I kept telling myself it’s definitely not my ACL. I was trying to convince myself, but I knew.”
Several days later the MRI findings confirmed a partially torn ACL and LCL.
Ironic, Schnurr says, “Because starting two years ago after a series of injuries to both hamstrings and then a quad, my physical therapist started me on injury prevention training, so ‘nothing else will happen’.”
Regular injury prevention training, until now, has not been a regular part of the McLean team’s routine, so Schnurr speculates that she avoided a complete tear of the two ligaments as a result of these efforts. Still, surgery and a long rehab are ahead.
“She’s a great girl with a great attitude,” he says. “Her work rate is incredible and so is her desire to improve. She always plays with a smile on her face. You just love to have that on the team.
“She has not always gotten the recognition she deserves,” he insists.
She was poised to shine with her ODP team, but now will be missing a prime opportunity for national team coaches to see her.
Was State Cup a risk she needed to take?
I wonder out loud about this to her club coach. Is she a target for opposing defenders? When you’re such a threat to score, do you risk an injury to prevent you from scoring?
“Well, she just scored a goal about two minutes before,” Moumen told me, “So yes, probably so.”
So when we have such a differential of talent competing on the same field, is the chance of injury increased? In that case, could select teams and grouping players on them be not only offering appropriate challenge for their soccer development, but also be safer for their play?
This is just speculation, but it makes me think of the guy going 50 miles per hour in the left lane of the highway. Differential, not absolute speed, is a bigger predictor of risk. In youth soccer, effort injuries increase when motivation is high and talent differentials exist (See my articles on this matter: Effort injuries and also, “Just don’t get hurt”).
It’s a moot point now. Kristin will be spending December recovering from surgery. She’ll take high school finals in early January, then head to Penn State to rehab under the keen eye of their training staff. In some ways, this seems providential.
Kristin is actually kind of looking forward to the break from soccer, insisting she’ll come back stronger.
“A minor setback for a major comeback,” is the text she received in support from her teammates.
So, does Kristin regret her decision to move to McLean?
“No, I’m glad I made the move. I think it’s matured me,” says the 17-year-old, “because I made the decision myself. It was hard but I had to decide which one was gonna make me better.”
Little did she know how hard it would get.
What advice does Kristin have for other players hoping to follow their dreams to the highest levels of soccer? She tells me she loves quotes and her Twitter feed is full of them. But two are prime territory for her:
1. “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” ~ Coach Walsh
2. “Maturity is when you stop making excuses and start making changes.” ~ Karl Schnurr, Kristin’s dad. That one she has set as a reminder on her phone every morning. Of course some changes come as most unwelcome surprises.
3. “I’m up for the challenge, and I’m looking forward to playing at Penn State when I’m fully recovered.” ~ Kristin Schnurr, Fwd, Penn State