Sept. 28, 2012
STANFORD, Calif. -
This has been quite a year for Stanford sophomore forward Chioma Ubogagu, who won an NCAA championship and a World Cup within 10 months of each other.
Ubogagu, the 2011 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, is Stanford’s top returning scorer (10 goals, 10 assists last year) and recently returned to the team after helping the United States to the FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup title in Japan on Sept. 8.
On Thursday, she scored her first goal of the season for Stanford, in the third minute of a 5-1 victory over Oregon State to help the No. 2 Cardinal to records of 8-1-1 overall and 2-0 in the Pac-12. It was her first goal since heading in the winner to beat North Korea in the quarterfinals of the U-20 World Cup, on Aug. 31.
In this interview, she talked about her experiences in Japan, as well as adapting to a Stanford team that already played six matches without her:
Q: What will you remember about the World Cup?
A: Playing in actual stadiums. I feel like the experience of walking into the stadium and hearing the anthem was so amazing.
Q: Have you ever played in front of crowds that big?
A: Last year in the final four we played in front of 8,000. That was biggest crowd I’d ever played in front of. For the final of this World Cup, it was 30,000. Quite the jump.
Q: Do you think about the large crowd when you’re playing?
A: No, because when I went in in the second half we were ahead 1-0 and Germany was pressing really hard. So, the crowd was the last thing on my mind. I wanted to keep the ball for my team and not let Germany get any more chances.
Q: What was your role when you came in?
Q: How did the team go from losing to Germany 3-0 in the preliminary round to believing you can beat them in the final?A:
A: I came in with 30-plus minutes left. At that time, you don’t want to get too defensive. We were still attacking. So, the coach, Steve Swanson, wanted me to get aggressive touches and keep possession.
One of the things that coaching staff told us was that we played well that game. It wasn’t as if it was easy for them. I felt that for the first 30 minutes, we kept more of the possession and created a lot of chances. The difference was that they capitalized on theirs. So, we watched a lot of film and talked about it a lot. So, the next time we were confident. I don’t think there was a thought in any of our heads of losing.
Q: How do you think this will affect your future?
A: The attention was definitely cool. It was on ESPN, so I got a few messages from friends and family saying they were watching, even though it was late. It was funny, we had a pamphlet that showed all the players who had done this tournament and gone on to play for the full national team. The future’s far away, but it’s cool to think about.
Q: How will this experience help you as a person and as a player?
A: We played a country from each continent and their culture shows in the way they play on the field. I feel like I can take aspects of their playing styles and add it to my game. And, as a person, I feel like Japan was the perfect place to have a World Cup because the people were so warm and so welcoming. Even though we’re basically an opponent – Japan was one of the favorites -- you wouldn’t know because of the way they were rooting for us.
Q: Were you able to see much of the country?
A: The majority of the time, we were in Hiroshima. We saw where the bomb hit. That was really sad. It was a unique experience because it was from their point of view. I’ve always learned about it through textbooks. To actually see and hear stories from their perspective was interesting.
We also went to where the tsunami hit. It was deserted. When it happened, it was on the news for a while, but it seems everyone’s forgotten about it. There’s definitely more help needed over there.
We also went to a temple. Our tour guide showed us their traditions. We couldn’t go inside, but could pray and make a wish. You clap three times after you make a wish.
Tokyo was just like New York City. It was crazy. And we did karaoke. That was fun. It wasn’t just soccer.
Q: Being around your teammates so much while you were in Japan, you must have gotten pretty close.
A: I’ve been with the national team since the 18s, so some of them I’ve been with since then. But I’ve been with this exact team for nine-plus months. We’re really really close. I think that helped us win. We were a real team. That was one of things that made it hard to say goodbye, because all of us will never be in the exact same spot again.
Q: Upon returning to Stanford, was it difficult to adjust?
A: It’s obviously different players, but both run the same formation, a 4-3-3. At the end of the day, it’s the same game. Everyone’s playing soccer. It’s an adjustment. They played six games without me, so jumping in there is a little different. But I don’t think it’s going to take very long for me to jell with everyone.
Q: Your role may be different this year. Do you feel pressure to score goals?
A: Last year, I was a freshman, so I felt it would be a lot expecting that as a freshman. This year, I’m a little older, so I feel the team and coaching staff expects a little more from me, just like I expect more from myself. But I don’t feel the pressure of having to score all the goals. I feel like this team is definitely about scoring by committee, which is why we’re so strong. It’s spreading the wealth. Everyone can step up and everyone can have the game-winner. That’s what makes this a solid team.
Q: You teamed well with Lindsay Taylor last year. Now, you’ll play with different people up top.
A: Yeah, it’s a little different because they’re different players. So, I’m going to have to create a different relationship with them than I had with L.T. But I still think it’s very doable. It’s not a burden. It’s something that’s going to come naturally.
Q: Since you’ve been at Stanford, you’ve been shuffling between national team duties and school. With the World Cup over, you can focus more on school.
A: That’s going to be nice. I’m really excited about that.
Q: Next year, you’ll declare a major. What will you choose?
A: I think I want to do film media, but I’m also doing pre-med requirements on the side to keep my options open. But I’m very interested in both.
I went to a high school my sophomore year that was very technology-based. That’s where I learned Adobe Premier and Final Cut. I just really really liked it. That’s kind of what we were doing in Japan, making mini videos. I like really, really, really cannot sing. But I’d make up lyrics to weird songs.
Q: What does your name mean?
A: “Chi” means God. And “Chioma” means God’s presence, or God be with you.
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics