By Hunter Richardson, GoDuke the Magazine
Over the last year and a half, defender Karlie Paschall has had a number of moments like these. But most recently, one came while in the midst of a four-day excursion to Syracuse, N.Y., riding on the bus to one of the women’s soccer squad’s practices. She put her phone in her backpack, looked out the window and then it hit her.
“I was like, oh my gosh, I’m living the dream life.”
For the sophomore from Brentwood, Tenn., it can be easy to get caught up in the small problems and the endless details. However, it’s easier to see the big picture and her love for Duke.
“To be able to take five minutes, step away and realize the big picture is great, like I go to Duke University and I’m studying what I love,” Paschall said. “I’m playing the game I love and I’m surrounded by phenomenal teammates and a great coaching staff. I have a great family life. I’m healthy. I am literally living the dream life.”
Paschall has come a long way from a rookie campaign that saw her overcome an injury suffered on the tail end of her high school career, log 694 minutes mainly as a reserve and struggle to gain her footing as a first-semester freshman.
Enter year two and there’s a raised confidence as she has taken on a new role along the Blue Devil backline, leading the team in minutes played while tacking on a pair of goals and a team-high five assists.
For her freshman season, Paschall was a fixture on the front end of the Duke attack. Then came the spring season, when she moved to the defensive side. The Blue Devil coaching staff took immediate notice.
“In the spring I played outside back for the most of it and then we played the North Carolina Courage and I had a really good game,” Paschall said. “The coaches were like, ‘Okay, center back is your spot.’”
After facing the learning curve that comes with transitioning from high school to college, Paschall’s change in position brought about a new challenge: stepping into a starting role in year two.
“It’s been a different kind of learning curve this year with stepping into a starting spot,” Paschall said. “I’ve had to figure out how to bring something to the team every single day. You can’t take days off, because the team needs leadership and enthusiasm every day.”
This, however, is not the Tennessean’s first go-round on the defensive line. Paschall had some experience with the U.S. National Team, which she has been a member of since her time with the organization’s U-14 squad. Along with that experience, the leadership of the Blue Devil veterans has been a major key — especially senior defender Chelsea Burns.
“She’s a senior, she’s experienced and she’s tough as nails so having her there to help direct me and be like, ‘If you make a mistake I got you’ has been a huge confidence booster,” Paschall said. “She’s always willing to put everything into what she does. That’s a phenomenal example to learn from.”
There’s also the leadership of former U.S. National Team star and current Duke assistant Carla Overbeck, who is the conductor of Duke’s defensive side. For Paschall, that’s a dream come true.
“I think having Carla Overbeck as one of my coaches is one of the biggest gifts of my entire soccer career. I am learning and playing under one of the greatest defenders and female soccer players of all time,” Paschall said. “She is so knowledgeable and smart about the game. She demands greatness and competition every time you step on the field. The fact that you have someone like that leading you and believing in you just takes your game to a whole new level.”
Then there’s Nicole Aquila Stephens, a former soccer standout at Rutgers who is the reason behind Paschall donning the number 18 on her jersey.
Stephens, who played at Rutgers in the early 2000s, has been a crucial figure in the life of Paschall. Since Paschall was in fifth grade, Stephens has been her mentor, guiding her and elevating her game to the highest level. But more than just elevating her game, it’s the belief in Paschall that made Stephens such a key role model.
“She has always believed in me and encouraged me,” Paschall said. “She’s just had a huge role in my life both as a player and as a person. And she was No. 18 in college. I came in and No. 16 was already taken. We didn’t have a No. 18 and I was like, ‘heck yeah, I’m going to do it for Nicole.’ I remember I called her and said, ‘Nicole, guess what? I’m going to be No. 18 in college.’ And she started bawling. Just hysterically crying.
“I really take a lot of pride in that number because I know every single time I wear it I’m honoring her in a sense and somewhat playing for her. I want to carry on her legacy.”
Stephens, who has been an academy and club soccer coach since the late 1990’s, recently stepped away from the game to pursue a different career path.
It’s the leadership of those people, from Stephens to Overbeck to the seniors and everyone in between, who have made Paschall into the person she is today. However, the dream goes far beyond her four years with Duke women’s soccer.
Paschall is currently pursuing a psychology major with a minor in neuroscience, aiming to get her PhD in psychology and go into either counseling or therapy. The inner workings of the human brain and how it creates human behavior are things the sophomore is extremely passionate about. However, in the simplest of terms, it’s all about just helping others.
“The reason why I love psychology so much is because it’s such an easy doorway for me to be able to connect with people and help them through their struggles,” Paschall said. “I don’t think it’s my role to be a hero to someone, because I don’t think that’s a role that humans should take on. But I do believe it is our responsibility as humans to help each other out. If I can play my small part in doing that through helping someone in therapy or counseling, that is what I believe is one of the greatest things you can do for another person.”
It’s that passion and love for what she does that brought about that moment on a bus ride in upstate New York. And it’s that passion that drives her every day to be her best, whether in the classroom or on the field.
In life, nothing worth having ever comes easy. For Paschall, getting to Duke and landing a starting role was no simple task. It took hard work, dedication and a pure love for what she does. And she would not change that for the world.
“There are always obstacles you have to face in life,” Paschall said. “This journey has been challenging at times, but it’s also been a dream come true. If I can wake up every day for the rest of my life and love what I do, then that’s all that matters.”