Aug. 25, 2011
BALTIMORE - Former Loyola University Maryland women's soccer defensive standouts, Sarra Moller '09 and Heather Cooke '10, have taken their skills to the next level, representing the Greyhounds in international competition.
"What they have accomplished speaks volumes of the quality and the tradition of the Loyola women's soccer program," said current Greyhound head coach Katherine Remy Vettori. " Sarra and Heather are great ambassadors for the school and for the program. They are both top-level players who were very special in college. The fact that they played together makes it even more special to see them reach this level."
The two spoke with LoyolaGreyhounds.com about their experiences and how Loyola helped them reach the levels they have attained.
Moller, a 2009 graduate and former Greyhound assistant coach, is in her second season playing for Kvarnsvedens IK, a women's professional soccer team in Sweden. Cooke, a 2010 graduate, was recently selected to play for the Philippine National Team in the Association of South East Asian Nations Football Federation women's world championships that will take place in October.
The pair formed an outstanding defensive tandem for the Greyhounds, playing on the same backline for three seasons from 2006-2008. Over that three-year stretch, Loyola allowed just 13 goals in 27 MAAC matches, posting a 0.484 goals against average.
Moller and Cooke helped the Greyhounds to a 30-19-11 overall record in those three seasons, while posting a 20-1-6 mark in MAAC competition. The two also helped Loyola to two conference regular-season titles and one MAAC tournament crown.
The pair anchored the Loyola center back position, becoming one of the best defensive pairs to put on the Green and White jersey."We balanced each other so well, and towards the end of our playing days together, it was almost like we knew where each other would be without even thinking about it, almost like a sixth-sense thing," said Moller.
Vettori coached Cooke and Moller on the same team in 2008.
"They were two of the greatest battlers," said Vettori. "They worked hard day-in and day-out at practice and their level of effort was unmatched. What they have accomplished shows what hard work can do. We are extremely proud of them and their achievements."
Beyond the pitch, both also were outstanding in the classroom, and each earned the Ernest Lagna Award as the school's top female senior student-athlete in 2009 and 2010, respectively.
Moller was a four-time All-MAAC First Team selection in her four years at Loyola. She also was two-time MAAC Defensive Player of the Year and a four-year starter for the Greyhounds.
"One of my highlights at Loyola was winning MAAC Defensive Player of the Year my freshman and senior seasons. When I was a freshman, I didn't even know the conference gave out awards of that caliber until my name was called at the banquet, and to win it again my senior year was surreal because it was almost like my playing career had come full circle and I finished where I started four years earlier."
The Manalapan, N.J., native was the first women's soccer player from Loyola to venture overseas when she signed in Sweden last March. She has started all 15 games for Kvarnsvedens IK in her second season with the squad. The team is currently 6-2-7 with seven games remaining in the season.
"I've had a pretty successful season, starting all 15 games so far, but each week is a battle mentally and physically to claim my spot and keep it for the weekend matches," said Moller. "Our season is eight months long, much longer than the college season, so it's important for me to keep myself mentally and physically intact, which means overcoming daily challenges and knowing my body inside and out, and I think I've done a pretty good job with that this year."
Moller says that coming to Sweden has been one of the best decisions of her life so far, but does present some challenges.
"Coming to Sweden has been one of the best decisions of my life so far, but I must admit, living in a foreign country and being away from my friends, my family, and my boyfriend is a daily struggle for me," she said. "What most people don't know is that we are only playing soccer about 2-3 hours a day, so the rest of the time we have to find things to do to keep ourselves busy. Having that much free time has allowed me to learn a lot about myself as a person and a player, and I can honestly say, the challenges I've faced overseas have taught me life lessons that I will keep with me forever."
Prior to playing internationally, Moller was an assistant for the Greyhounds in 2009 under coach Vettori. The squad went on to a perfect 9-0-0 record in MAAC play that year and won both the conference regular-season and tournament titles. Cooke was a senior on that team.
"Senior year was one of the best year's of my life," said Cooke. "The way the MAAC tournament ended with us coming from behind in all three games and making it to the NCAA tournament, I ended my career on a good note. I also had my best year individually and really saw the hard work from the previous three year's pay off. Playing in college was a great experience for me."
Moller said she got a different perspective while coaching from the sidelines.
"After I graduated, I had the chance to coach Cooke and see her play from a different perspective," Moller said. "She grew so much as a player her senior season, and it was cool to see her take control of the defense I was so proud to be a part of the last 4 years. It was nice to see her succeed and help the program win another MAAC Championship in her own way."
Cooke, also a four-year starter, was named MAAC Defensive Player of the Year her senior season. She was an All-MAAC First Team selection and named to the NSCAA/adidas All-Northeast Region team in 2009, while earning All-MAAC Second Team honors in 2008.
Moller acted as a mentor to Cooke, who arrived at Loyola without much experience at the center back position.
"When I first got to Loyola, I didn't have much experience playing defense," said Cooke, " To this day, Sarra is the first and best center back I've played with. She taught me a lot."
The former Greyhound will take part in the Association of South East Asian Nations Football Federation women's world championships that takes place over a two-week span in mid-October. The tournament will be held in Laos and includes teams from Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia, in addition to Cooke's team from the Philippines.
Cooke's mother, Elsie, was born and raised in the Philippines and lived there until the age of 21. This will be just the second time Cooke will have the chance to visit the country, but is looking forward to the experience.
"I'm so proud of her, and so happy that she has gotten the opportunity to play with the Philippine National Team," said Moller. "I know it's something she's wanted to do for some time now. Even though Cooke and I aren't playing on the same team anymore, we will always have that center back connection."
Both players point to their time at Loyola that has helped them grow into the people and players that they are today.
"Loyola is where I realized my potential," said Cooke. "When I first started, I wasn't sure I could compete on the Division I level. But I left the school being able to compete on the level of the U.S. National team along with other high-level competition that I've played against in various tournaments since college. Loyola is a smaller school with a smaller program and gave me the opportunities and the training that I needed. I know I couldn't get any preparation for this type of competition anywhere else."
But it was not just on the field experiences that helped Cooke get to the point where she is today.
"Each year at Loyola I grew," Cooke acknowledges. "I became a better player and a better person because of the environment and the people that make up the school."
Moller echoed similar sentiments.
"When I was at Loyola, my love for the game grew immensely. People on my team used to joke at how 'obsessed' I was with the game," Moller added. "But I think, in all reality, I just loved the atmosphere at Loyola and the friendships I made because of the soccer program. Of course, I want to credit my growth as a player to the coaches who helped me along the way. Without them, and the support of the athletic program, I don't know if I ever would have made it overseas. Playing at Loyola taught me to "fight for every inch" and never back down from a challenge, and I owe that philosophy and attitude to my teammates who always supported me. Loyola offered me the resources I needed to take my game to the next level, and I will forever be thankful for that!
But, the most important college experience is definitely the relationships I made with my teammates. In four years of college you meet a lot of players... girls you play with for only a year, and girls you play with for all four years. I can honestly say, I learned something from every teammate I ever played with at Loyola, and those experiences are ones I will never forget. I've met some of my best friends and people who will remain in my life forever, and I think that's an amazing thing in itself."