Nov. 5, 2002
By Jeff Carlisle
The words 'defensive midfielder' and 'spotlight' appear in the same sentence about as often as 'spinach' and 'holiday treat'. But given that the player in question is Santa Clara's Devvyn Hawkins, one suspects that the spotlight will increasingly shine in Hawkins's direction.
Hawkins however likes things just the way they are. "I hate being in the spotlight," says Hawkins with an easy laugh. "Put it on someone else please!" Given the relative anonymity of Hawkins's role as defensive midfielder, it would appear that the position fits Hawkins like a favorite pair of jeans.
When it comes to the Santa Clara University women's soccer team, it is reigning Honda College Player of the Year Aly Wagner who receives the majority of the accolades. But Wagner knows that without the play of Hawkins, her efforts on the offensive end would be for naught. "She is kind of an unsung hero of the team." says Wagner of Hawkins. "Devvyn is the playmaker in terms of she creates rhythm and flow and really changes the [point of attack] which allows us to get in on the other end. The fans in the stands, they only see and recognize the person who puts the ball in the back of the net but Devvyn just creates amazing opportunities for her teammates. She really sets the tone and the pace of the game and we appreciate it. I don't know if everyone else does."
Whether Hawkins enjoys the spotlight or not, her performances this year are bound to garner her even more attention. With Wagner missing roughly half of the Bronco's games this year due to injury and commitments with the U.S. National Team, it has been left to Hawkins to fill the void. On a team that often starts eight underclassmen, Hawkins' play in Wagner's absence has been instrumental to the Broncos season so far. "No question she is stepping out of Wagner's shadow." says Broncos head coach Jerry Smith. "Devvyn is playing her best soccer right now. I've never seen her play this well. You always hope that your seniors in their final year of eligibility step up, become leaders, impact the game, and maybe even take over a game or two and Devvyn has done that for us."
Smith also adds that Hawkins leadership qualities have had the biggest impact. "We made Devvyn a captain this year and I think it was the best thing for her. She was thrust into a leadership role from the beginning of the season. Obviously she has been a great player for us in the past but I think its her leadership that is really making a difference for us right now and she's learning to be a great leader for our team."
While Hawkins admits that she misses having Wagner by her side, she welcomes the challenge that Wagner's absence has provided her. "You can't replace Aly obviously. I think I've had to step up into that leader role just because [Wagner] is a great leader on the field. But when she's gone who's going to do it? So I've seen it as an opportunity to improve on that and step up and take over that leadership role. Of course we want her here but it's been a good lesson for me."
If the opposition offense is the getaway car in a high speed chase, Hawkins is the set of spike strips across the road, defusing attacks with her ball winning and heading skills before they become truly dangerous. Once the ball has been won, it is up to Hawkins to set the table for her more illustrious counterparts, often making the pass before the pass that will set up a goal. But by virtue of her position being further back on the field, Hawkins is unlikely to accumulate that many goals or assists and in the college game, those are the players that garner most of the attention.
While the role of being a holding midfielder is one that Hawkins now thrives in, the marriage between position and player was at times a rocky one. Her days as a youth player, as well as her freshman year at Santa Clara, were spent mostly in an attacking role. Hawkins's first year with the Broncos saw her contribute nine goals and ten assists on a team that reached the semifinals of the 1999 NCAA Women's College Cup. When resident holding midfielder Nikki Serlenga, now of the WUSA's Atlanta Beat, was lost to graduation, it was left to Hawkins to step into that role, requiring a fair bit of prodding from Smith in the process. "She resisted playing in that position, absolutely." states Smith. "Devvyn was uncomfortable there, didn't want the defensive responsibility, enjoyed what attacking players typically get to enjoy, which is scoring goals and creating goals. It was a tough sell. Now, you can't get her out of that position."
Hawkins herself admits the transition was a difficult one. "I especially missed it my sophomore year. It's obviously hard going from attack to defense because you are thinking 'I could be scoring goals.' Even though Jerry thought it was best for the team, I saw it more as 'Why is he doing this to me?' Now I love playing defensive mid because I do have opportunities to go up and score on corner kicks and on the long range shots. We have two amazing attacking center mids [in Wagner and freshman Micaela Esquivel] and Jerry sees me playing defensive mid and I'm more for the team now. I just see it as best for the team."
Growing up in Olympia, Washington, Hawkins's childhood was spent playing every sport she could get her hands on with "my guy friends" as she puts it. To say that Hawkins was a tomboy is like saying Mia Hamm is a soccer player. If there is a sport Devvyn does not enjoy, it is likely that it has yet to be invented. Devvyn's mother Sunny recalls "She would play football, basketball, soccer, baseball, everything with the guys. I think she liked the level of competitiveness and she was comfortable [playing with guys]. She just loved sports and a lot of her girlfriends didn't share her same drive or competitiveness."
Hawkins's drive extends into every facet of her life. Her mother adds "You know she was really quite a driven kid right at the beginning. Even when she was in kindergarten she would get up and she would practice her piano extra or she would give herself homework and make sure she had it done."
While many kids have dreams of sporting glory, it was evident even as an eight year old that Hawkins had the potential to go far in whatever sport she chose. "She just had incredible poise and a great understanding of the game." says Dr. Mark Bauer, her youth coach until she was eleven. "I remember one time we told the team that before they could go forward, they had to pass the ball all the way around from front to back and to the front again and Devvyn understood why we wanted them to do this and understood the importance of switching the point of attack. She was like a coach on the field. She was just a great leader and always really determined to win."
At age twelve Hawkins then joined up with coach Brian Van Blommestein at Tacoma, WA based F.C. Royals. Hawkins stellar play helped F.C. Royals finish second at the U.S.S.F. Soccer Nationals in 1997 and led to her being named to the U.S. U-18 National Team.
Hawkins was such a natural athlete that while attending Capital High School she played basketball and ran track "just to stay in shape" and ended up finishing fourth in the state in the 400 meters. Hawkins then brought her ability to Santa Clara where she made an immediate impact with her sound technique, as well as her physical strength.
When asked to assess her own attributes, Hawkins is quick to highlight her defensive abilities. Hawkins states "I think my biggest strength would be my heading ability, just winning balls in the air. I think my passing, not so much at the beginning of this year, but I think it's picked up a lot. I consider that one of my better strengths. I think leading. I think I'm mentally tough so getting stuck into tackles and challenging for balls."
One would have to add an incredible ability to overcome adversity to Hawkins's long list of attributes. During the summer of 2001, Hawkins was overseas playing with the U.S. U-21 National Team when she received word that her father had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of skin cancer. His health deteriorated as the summer progressed. After Hawkins had come back to Santa Clara for the start of the season, she returned home, joining the rest of her family to attend to her ailing father. "He was really upset that I had to come home because I had to take two weeks off." recalls Hawkins. "Of course I wanted to be with my Dad but he taught me to be strong and I know he didn't want to see me putting my life on hold for him." Her father passed away shortly after Hawkins return.
Most people who have never lost a parent acknowledge how grateful and lucky they are to still have them with us. But it is an easy, almost casual gratitude borne of a kind of benign ignorance for which no amount of sympathy can compensate. In talking to Hawkins, the magnitude of that luck begins to hit home. Then again, it is clear Hawkins had some luck herself, in that a precious bond was forged between father and daughter that continues even now. "My Dad and I, we were very close." recalls Hawkins. "I was always with him, playing soccer with my Dad. He was always the one out there kicking the ball around."
Hawkins cites her families, both the immediate and soccer varieties, for helping her navigate through the loss of her father. "My sisters [Dana and Addy] are great, totally strong and my Mom, she's an amazing lady. She was by his side the whole time so that took a lot of the pressure off of us girls."
"My teammates, they were awesome too, sending cards, flowers, calling me every day when I was at home. They totally knew the situation. I think the coolest thing was that they didn't act any differently towards me. They got on me still in training and that's what I needed. I didn't want to feel the pity. If I came out having a rough day, they'd know it. They'd feed off that and relax a little bit."
Close friend and former teammate Katie Sheppard recalls "It was unbelievable to me that she was even playing at that time because her emotions were in Washington. She just knew that her Dad was her biggest fan and by playing it was giving her Dad hope. He knew she was down there [in Santa Clara] doing what she loved and that was an inspiration to him. She was just unbelievably strong during the whole situation with her Dad. She always knew that her Dad would want her out there and it was like she was playing for him the whole time."
Soccer proved to be as good a tonic as there could possibly be. The Broncos embarked on a stellar season, but with the National Championship in their sights, Hawkins was forced to call upon her mental as well as physical reserves again. She suffered a sprained knee in the semifinal victory over Florida and looked set to miss out on the biggest game of her young career.
Hawkins maintains that her form and confidence drop mightily when injured. But in talking to coaches and teammates, it becomes evident that Hawkins ability to cope with injuries is more akin to that of the Black Knight from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail". ("It's only a flesh wound. I've had worse.") Clearly, it was going to take more than a mere sprained knee to keep her out of the biggest game of her life. "Devvyn is a warrior." says Smith. "She is constantly playing with injuries. I wasn't very concerned because it was Devvyn. It was hurting her, absolutely, but she has able to able to put that out of her mind and focus on what she needed to do."
With her mother and younger sister in attendance, Hawkins was also spurred on by the knowledge that her father was watching her as well. "I think I was playing more for him and myself. I felt tons of inspiration coming from him, just knowing that he was with me."
Hawkins went on to play a vital role in the Broncos 1-0 victory over North Carolina in the NCAA Women's College Cup Final. Her tackling and ball winning efforts in midfield enabled the Broncos to become the first team all season to shutout the notoriously physical Tar Heels.
Hawkins sights are now firmly set on leading Santa Clara to a second consecutive National Championship. After some early hiccups, Hawkins feels that the Broncos are on the right track. "I think we struggled at the beginning due to maybe missing some of the players but I think we now have established that those games are in the past. We know where we stand with them. What do we do to get better? I think we are coming together. We have young team, but we had a young team last year. We have that experience of going all the way of what we need to do to get there. I think we're doing well for where we are at in the season. We just have get through league play and during league play we'll start coming together just because we'll gain the confidence we need by playing these games."
Indeed. With Sunday's 1-0 road victory over fourth-ranked Portland, the Broncos look poised to claim their sixth West Coast Conference crown.
If the stars align, a rematch with top ranked Stanford awaits the Broncos in the NCAA tournament. Hawkins is keen to atone for the 3-0 loss handed out by the Cardinal in the season opener. "I think our team is so much better [than earlier]. I think we're clicking. Our game against Stanford, everyone was on a different page. Our midfield wasn't working well. Our defense was on a completely different page. Coach Smith has really worked with the defense. Because no one back there had played expect for Jaclyn [Campi] and Lana [Bowen] and Lana was the only one out there that day that was a starter for us last year. It was a whole completely different back line. I think just playing together these past games, we might not have played as well as we wanted, but we've gotten the experience of working together. We've gotten the kinks out of a lot of things that we did wrong that game. When we play them it will be a lot closer match at least. We're hoping [to play them] for the playoffs actually. We're very confident about it."
Hawkins also has her sights set on playing in WUSA as well as securing a place on the U.S. National Team. Hawkins's first appearances for the National Team occurred when the U.S. U-21s were sent to the Algarve Cup in place of the regular U.S. National Team due to the fact that many of the players were committed to the start up of the WUSA. So when Hawkins was called up last summer with the rest of the regulars, her initial thrill was accompanied by more than a hint of trepidation. Hawkins remembers "I was just like 'Oh my...'. I was scared. I didn't know what to do, I was so scared. We went to the same tournament [the Algarve Cup]. I had never really played with any of them before and it was an amazing experience being with them. Those players were my heroes. They still are. It just picks up your playing. The quickness that they play at is just out of control. And just their mental game and their fitness, it was awesome."
Hawkins made five appearances last spring for the National Team, but suffered a severe ankle injury before a National Team camp later in the year that slowed her progress. U.S. National Team coach April Heinrichs states that Hawkins still has a shot at competing for a roster spot on the 2003 World Cup team. "It's becoming increasingly more difficult for Devvyn [to make the team], but not impossible. She's been away since March and the competition is significantly greater than it was eight months ago. Having said that, there is a belief that I have in Devvyn. The next time I see Devvyn I hope she's fit and healthy. I know what she can do. She's one of my favorite young players."
As Hawkins's play continues to win her honors and her role as a leader expands, she admits that being in the spotlight is something to which she will have to become accustomed. Hawkins adds "I'm a senior on a very young team. So I think with the seniors, they always try to shine it on them. I'm all right with that. I don't enjoy it, but I'm all right with that."