The bright lights illuminate the flawlessly manicured field at Alumni Stadium. A piercing wind amplifies the effects of an already bitter November evening. Scores of screaming, shirtless fanatics provide the soundtrack of another NCAA Tournament game held at Notre Dame.
For Vanesa Abad ’17, Nov. 14, 2014, was the day she found herself at the intersection of déjà vu and a self-fulfilled prophecy.
Vanesa’s journey through her first two years of college was a dizzying and unconventional one. Committed to competing at the highest level from a young age, the Barrington, Ill., native pledged her commitment to The Ohio State University while a junior at Lake Zurich High School. The Buckeyes were coming off a Sweet 16 appearance and were asserting themselves as a premier program within the fierce Big Ten.
The allure of Columbus faded, though.
As determined and driven as Vanessa is on the field, she possesses even more grit in the classroom. Initially a biology major, Vanesa made the transition to nursing before arriving in Ohio. It was a move that posed serious logistical concerns — clinicals coincided with the four-hour block of practice time in the spring.
To Vanesa’s credit, she thought outside the box in an attempt to make it work. She enrolled in night classes at a local community college. Eventually, enough was enough. Nursing and soccer were mutually exclusive.
Vanesa scrapped the scarlet and gray in favor of brown and gold after the spring of 2013.
She was immediately embraced by her new teammates. Vanesa credits goalkeeper Sydney Galvez-Daley for her guidance through the transition. Sydney, a transfer from Creighton the year prior, provided the two-time All-Area player with a primer on life at Valpo.
If there were any first-year jitters, they certainly didn’t show.
Time management and an indefatigable work ethic helped Vanesa ace her way to a 3.893 grade-point average in the classroom last year. On the field, she found the back of the net six times for the most dominant team in program history en route to Horizon League Freshman of the Year accolades.
She has aspirations of becoming an emergency room nurse after obtaining both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Valparaiso University. Vanesa says she embraces the split-second decision making necessary in such a high-pressure environment. That same moxie has made her one of the most dependable players on the roster.
Perhaps more than the awards, Vanesa cherishes her Valpo experience.
“Everyone here is very approachable and helpful. Whether it’s nursing or soccer, the faculty and coaches do everything to help you succeed,” she says.
The only people more elated to have Vanesa back in the Central time zone than the Crusader coaching staff are her parents. Vanesa spoke at great length about the influence her father, Michael, and mother, Ana, galvanized on the multi-sport athlete growing up.
“My mother never allowed me to lose focus on academics. She’s very pragmatic in the sense that she’s always made sure I have a back-up plan. My dad has been involved with the soccer side of things from day one,” Vanesa says.
At just under two hours, the drive from Barrington to Brown Field is one that permits her parents to attend home games. The Horizon League’s agreement with ESPN has allowed Michael, a chemical engineer, to track Vanesa and the Crusaders while traveling internationally to countries as far east as Lithuania.
It was Vanesa’s father, after all, who piqued her interest in soccer at a young age. Michael would take her and her sisters to Notre Dame for NCAA first-round matches. It was then, while a middle-schooler, that Vanesa conjured up dreams of taking the field at Alumni Stadium.
Move the needle a decade and there she was. The sights and sounds a touch more vivid in November 2014 than in November 2004. Valpo’s most magical season to date had its own storybook ending.