Rebecca Quinn’s freshman season with the Duke women’s soccer team qualified as an exercise in frustration.DURHAM -- From start to finish and from head to toe,
The Blue Devils had a need for her skills in a midfield decimated by the loss of two returning starters to year-long ailments, but she missed most of the regular season dealing with plantar facia problems and most of the postseason due to a concussion. While several other members of her celebrated recruiting class were emerging as starters and logging major minutes, Quinn was relegated largely to rehab and recovery.
But the talented Torontonian has since returned to the pitch in a big way. The past six months have been among the busiest and most productive of her soccer life — a whirlwind of road trips, training camps, international matches and Duke academics. And there is no lull in sight: she will likely finish off her summer vacation from college by preparing for and competing with Canada in the FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup, which will be conducted on her native soil in August.
Quinn has been involved with Canada Soccer’s national programs since her youth and was a key figure for her country’s entry in the FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup in Azerbaijan during the fall of 2012, her final year of high school. She moved up to the U20 level in 2013 and spent almost two weeks away from campus this past February for a U20 training camp in Vancouver as the coaches began to shape their roster for this summer’s major international competition.
Quinn was back at Duke barely 48 hours when she was surprised by a followup call from Canada Soccer offering her an opportunity to travel with the country’s full senior national team to Europe to compete in the Cypress Cup. So in short order she was on the road again for matches against Italy, England and Ireland from March 7-12, marking her official debut for the Canadian Women’s National Team (WNT) at the age of 18.
Quinn left campus for another 10-day U20 camp in Portland in April, then just after Duke’s spring semester ended she was summoned again to the WNT for a game in Winnipeg against the United States. She started and played 90 minutes in the 1-1 draw. Canada held the U.S. scoreless until the 78th minute, when Quinn tried to clear a cross with her head and it bounced to American star Sydney Leroux, who deposited the equalizer.
After a family vacation, Quinn spent three weeks of June in Vancouver, first for more U20 training followed by another start for the WNT in a friendly against Germany, ranked No. 2 in the world behind the U.S.
While it was hectic shuttling between the U20s and the senior national team, Quinn maintained her focus by treating it as a learning process. A midfielder by trade, she is being converted to a center back on defense as part of WNT coach John Herdman’s efforts to establish a more free-flowing style of play.
“He wants midfielders and back lines that can really handle the ball well,” Quinn said during a brief respite from training in June. “The back line essentially is the first line of our attack, which makes a good platform for our team. With the different style of soccer Canada is changing to now, he wants those midfielders in the back so he’s converting a lot of players.
“I really like the style we’re playing. I’m on the ball all the time. My favorite thing to do — I love attacking. I love having the ball at my feet, so it’s been good getting a lot of touches and trying to get experience.
“Center back is still a relatively new position for me, so I’m definitely taking full advantage of all the learning,” she added. “But I think I’ve improved so much because there was so much room to grow and so much knowledge to take hold of in being concentrated on a position I’m not used to. It’s been good having this focus.”
Herdman took over Canada’s WNT in time to lead it to a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics and is now geared toward the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, which Canada will host next summer. For the recent friendly against Germany, Quinn was one of four teenagers joining the established veterans in his lineup. Herdman told reporters after the game that the 2-1 loss showed his team is closing the gap on the world’s elite.
Quinn’s objective is to remain on track for a role with the WNT during the upcoming World Cup year. For the remainder of this summer, though, she’s locked in on the U20 version that runs Aug. 5-24. Her itinerary includes another two-week residency camp in Vancouver, a team trip to Mexico and more pre-tourney training in Toronto at the end of July. Canada’s first two games of the U20 World Cup will be in her hometown.
“It’s crazy,” she laughed. “We’re hoping for a good turnout. Soccer can be in the shadows in Canada with hockey, but hopefully we’ll have good results and bring more awareness to the full Women’s World Cup in Canada next summer.
“This summer and last spring have been really critical for my development, especially with the senior team, just making sure I kept performing on that team. And then with the 20s as well, it’s a big step to being in the senior program. It’s kind of difficult — once the 20s is over there is no real bridge after that. There are no other national teams (except the senior WNT). We don’t have a U23 national team, which is different from the States. So this time is pretty critical. And then with Duke we want to win a championship, which is all about peaking at the right time, I guess.”
Quinn started the first four games of her freshman season for the Blue Devils, with coach Robbie Church in need of replacements for injured returning starters Gilda Doria and Cassie Pecht in the midfield. A foot injury in the fourth game kept her out for a month, then she re-injured it her first game back and was out for another month. She returned for Duke’s NCAA opener at Colorado College but had to leave less than a minute after taking the field when she collided with an opponent and sustained a concussion.
While Church’s NCAA quarterfinalists often started four freshmen, Quinn was able to play just 368 minutes across seven matches — and she saw no game action on the home turf of Koskinen Stadium.
“It was frustrating but I got to learn how the college season works, which is different from anything I’ve played before,” said Quinn, whose twin sister Jill is a goalkeeper for Northeastern. “It’s a quick season with a lot packed into a few months. I’m excited for a fresh start being injury free, and we should have a good team this year.
“I’m really excited. A bunch of people in my class have had opportunities at the (U20 national team) level and are phenomenal players. We had so many girls in our class get quality playing time last year, which is crazy being freshmen. And then our incoming class is ranked second in the nation, so we have a lot of talent coming up. It will still be interesting to see how everyone adjusts to the college environment with our incoming freshmen, but overall we have some great soccer players so it’s really exciting.”
Quinn is expected to miss Duke’s preseason training and possibly the first couple of matches due to the U20 Women’s World Cup. But the growth she has enjoyed and the international experience she has gained since her injury-marred rookie year earmarks her for an integral long-term role with the Blue Devils — not to mention her homeland national team.
• Quinn’s Duke classmate Christina Gibbons was recently named to the U.S. U20 Women’s World Cup squad and will travel to Canada as well in August.