New Faces of FGCU: Women’s Soccer
By Jordyn Matez
With days that begin as early as 8 a.m. and last almost 12 hours, the student athletes of the FGCU women’s soccer team certainly have a lot on their plate.
That goes for the whole team, including new transfer students Evdokia Popadinova and Opal Curless as well as freshman Ashlee Brentlinger.
“The transition hasn’t been as hard as I’d thought,” Brentlinger said. “The only thing is missing class sometimes when we’re traveling has been tough, but I’m still doing well.”
The three rookie players, along with the rest of the women’s soccer team, begin their day with a practice – with the exception of Popadinova and some other teammates, who have class before practice. Those who don’t have class before practice — unless you’re Popadinova, who attends lectures both before and after practice — will attend classes after their daily practice.
Brentlinger, who recently suffered from an injury in a game against Dayton University, spends some time before scheduled practice doing physical therapy and rehabilitation with Erica, the team’s trainer.
“Erica said it’s a slow and steady process,” Brentlinger said. “If I try and rush back too quick then there’s a possibility that I’ll injure it again and be out longer.”
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, after the girls play on the field, practice ends with training in the gym with the team’s strength and conditioning coach, Randy Popple, though he’s better known to the team as ‘Pops’.
Immediately following practice, all three girls only have time for a quick shower before heading to class. For Popadinova and Brentlinger, they only have time for a quick meal after class before heading back to campus for another lecture. Curless instead leaves class and heads to the student athlete study hall in Alico Arena to get her hours in.
Student athletes at FGCU are required to log six hours in study hall per week — unless you’re a freshman, which means eight hours per week for your first semester as a student — so it’s not unusual for players to go directly from class to study hall. Popadinova and Brentlinger join Curless in studying shortly after their classes get out to log some hours of their own.
Following study hall, the girls have the rest of their day free to themselves.
“It’s definitely wake up, practice, class, study hall and then life,” Curless said of her daily schedule.
While Brentlinger is adjusting to a completely new lifestyle as a freshman in college, Curless and Popadinova are all too familiar with long workdays.
“The weather is very different,” said Curless, who transfered from Syracuse University in New York this year. “It’s a lot warmer here, but other than that, it’s still a Division I soccer program, so it’s the same amount of time.”
Popadinova transferred to FGCU from Northwestern Ohio University, but has seen a major lifestyle change compared to her time as a soccer player in her hometown of Hadzhidimovo, Bulgaria.
“America’s more physical,” Popadinova said, describing the differences between Bulgaria’s style of play and America’s. “The girls here are way faster and they do emphasize a lot of the running and the athletics. It’s just a whole other level.”
As far as how they came to become collegiate athletes, Popadinova said she began her soccer career a tad late.
“I started late because in Bulgaria you don’t have many sports to play,” Popadinova said.
Curless and Brentlinger, however, both began their soccer careers at about four years old and have been playing ever since. Brentlinger mentioned continuing into a collegiate level because of her love for the game, while Curless said she knew that she wanted to play in college since she started playing.
“I think I knew I always wanted to play college soccer ever since I was a little kid,” Curless said. “So when the opportunity came I just took it.”
Popadinova and Brentlinger also touched on the possibility of playing professionally, if the opportunity were to arise. Popadinova even mentioned that a professional career factored into her transfer to FGCU, saying that she believed if she came to the school and played in a Division I league then more scouts would have eyes on her.
With a professional career still on the table for later in life, Brentlinger, a biology major, still intends to work towards a career in the medical career.
“I’m thinking about being an orthopedic surgeon or maybe a physical therapist,” Brentlinger said. “I just want to work with athletes.”
Popadinova, an integrated studies major, is unsure of where she wants to take her studies. She knows she wants to work in sports eventually, but continuing her career on a professional level is currently her main goal.
As for Curless, a psychology major, she hopes to continue on to grad school to pursue a career in clinical psychology.
“I definitely like working with kids,” Curless said. “I think working with people is really interesting.”
Curless, a midfielder, said that she looks up to U.S. Women’s National soccer team midfielder Julie Ertz as an inspiration, as well as Megan Rapinoe and Marta of the National Women’s Soccer League.
Brentlinger named Argentina’s Lionel Messi and the United States women’s national soccer team’s Tobin Heath among her top inspirations, saying that she admired Messi’s style of play and Heath’s confidence with the ball.
Popadinova said that Cristiano Ronaldo will always be her favorite, so much so that she even adopted Ronaldo’s celebration methods after scoring a goal.
After Popadinova scores a goal, she jumps in the air, makes a cross with her arms, and does a complete 360 before hitting the ground again. While Ronaldo started this specific celebration, Popadinova brought it to FGCU and made it her trademark.
“I saw that people actually liked it and I said okay, I’ll continue to do it,” Popadinova said. “It’s a really nice way to celebrate because I feel like I have so much adrenaline.”
Brentlinger, the youngest member of the FGCU women’s soccer team, started six games before injuring her knee on the field, resulting in a subluxed patella. As a result of the injury, Brentlinger has been spending most of her time rehabilitating and preparing to get back out on the field.
While Brentlinger noted that it’s been very annoying to have to sit out of games rather than play in them, she said that her strong work ethic is keeping her positive.
“I just put in 110% effort every day to try and get better and do everything I can to help out the team,” Brentlinger said. “I’m very much a team player.”
While all three girls are relatively new to the team, it doesn’t mean they play like newbies. Popadinova and Curless have both started in all 10 of the team’s games so far, while Brentlinger started in all six that she was eligible to play in.
Along with this, Popadinova leads the team in goals, having scored eight so far this season. Brentlinger has six shots to her name and is just one point behind the next-best record on the team, regardless of her only having played six games, and Curless ties for the third-most assists on the team with three.
While two are transfers from different universities and one is part of just six true freshmen on the team, all three girls have found their home in FGCU’s women’s soccer team.
“Our program is nationally recognized consistently and the coaching staff is so welcoming,” Brentlinger said. “And there’s such a high level of respect on this team. The players really hold each other accountable and I really liked that.”