Sept. 10, 2005
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Switzerland may have the Alps, but Ohio State has the Buckeyes and that was the biggest selling point for OSU women's soccer midfielder Lara Dickenmann.
It always was Dickenmann's ambition to play soccer in the United States and the sophomore seized the opportunity to showcase her talent on U.S. soil when she was offered a spot on the Buckeye roster.
"Women's soccer is a lot bigger in the U.S. than it is in Europe," the Kries, Switzerland, native said. "Playing in Switzerland became less challenging. For women's soccer, the U.S. is the place to go."
After helping lead the Swiss Under-19 squad to a 2002 European Championship and two Swiss national championships, the 2003-04 Swiss Player of the Year came to Ohio State looking to add more titles to her prolific resume. Although in new surroundings, Dickenmann maintained the look of a veteran player, shattering several OSU single-season program records as a freshman. Not only does the 2004 Soccer Buzz Freshman of the Year own the school's records for most goals (13), assists (12) and points (38) compiled in a season, but Dickenmann also was a part of an OSU squad that captured the Big Ten tournament title and went as deep as the "Elite Eight" in the NCAA tournament.
But Dickenmann was surprised to jump into the starting line-up as soon as she did. Dickenmann routinely played 90 minutes a game for the Swiss U-19 team, but she was prepared for the possibility of having to begin her OSU career on the bench. However, head coach Lori Walker was concocting a far different plan for the Buckeyes' success and it included Dickenmann. "I would never have guessed I would have helped the team so much," Dickenmann said. "I thought I would have to fight for a spot on the team, but I got to play and I was really surprised I got the start. I noticed what I could bring to the team and what the team could bring to me. It was awesome to see how we fit together and how we developed from the first game to the last."
"Lara is an important piece to the success of our equation," Walker, now in her ninth season at Ohio State, said. "She is more athletic and talented than we even realized. There is no doubt she is unbelievably dangerous with the ball on her foot."
Although Ohio State notched its most successful season in its 12-year history in 2004, Dickenmann only wants to get better during her remaining years as a Buckeye. Initially unaware of records she and the team smashed, Dickenmann is hopeful to build off of the squad's memorable season last year, but notes that coming one game shy of the 2004 Women's College Cup is not the team's pinnacle of success.
"I did not know anything about records before I got here. It seems like everyone was talking about the records, but it's just the first step. We are an awesome team again this year. We can do better and go even further because the team knows what we want and what we can do. It was my first year and I don't want it to be the best year."
Dickenmann credits much of the success of the 2004 crop to the coaching staff. Led by Walker, the entire crew was helpful in explaining the most complex situations and with relentless communication between the players and coaches, the team had little difficulty picking up the pace after a 0-2 start.
The solidarity of the team also contributed to the on-the-field chemistry that developed, Dickenmann said. The squad always made it a point to have fun with the game, from getting prepared in the lockeroom to walking out onto the field. Even during Ohio State's win over Penn State in the Big Ten tournament, Dickenmann simply enjoyed the moment of playing in one of the biggest games of her career.
"The game was fun from the beginning," Dickenmann said. "But we always have fun, because deep in ourselves we knew we were going to win it. We were always in a good mood and we never gave up."
Optimism seems to be at the heart of the team's philosophy and it rubbed off on Dickenmann. One of the biggest challenges she faced was overcoming the language barrier that kept her from being able to communicate effectively with the coaching staff and her teammates. However, Dickenmann adapted extremely well to her new environment and after time passed she was able to clearly understand what was going on, Lisa Grubb, an OSU senior forward said.
Dickenmann not only had difficulty adjusting to a new style of play, but she also struggled with the changes in her new environment. When she arrived, she did not have time to immerse herself in the new surroundings, but once the season ended she realized there were subtle differences that made her two homes quite different from each other.
"When I first arrived here, I thought Columbus was nice," Dickenmann said. "It's really flat in Columbus compared to where I come from where it is really hilly. Also I miss really good food. Living in the dorms, I hated not being able to cook my own food."
In addition to not being able to prepare her own meals, Dickenmann also misses Swiss coffee from home. Accustomed to drinking from small teacup-like containers, she was shocked to encounter the large cardboard cups that are offered at some of the more notable coffee houses in the United States.
After spending two months of this summer in Switzerland, Dickenmann may have to readjust to life in the United States once again. But re-familiarizing herself with the capital city will have to wait, after unwinding at boutiques and hitting the slopes during her break from soccer. The Buckeyes, already four games into the 2005 season, are on a mission to defend their conference title and have hopes of a deeper run into the NCAA tournament. Dickenmann has all intentions to live up to all of the expectations after her record-breaking year in 2004, but she is reluctant to note the individual success.
"It's always about the team winning titles," Dickenmann said. "I picked a team sport and it's awesome to be on a field with 10 other people. You can't compare the feeling to anything else."