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Profiles In Badassery: Lauren Sesselmann

Guest poster Eric Gittleman did the legwork to catch up with Olympic Medalist, Film and Video Actress, Heartthrob, and Boilermaker Lauren Sesselmann.

Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

What follows is a guest post written by soccer enthusiast Eric Gettlemnn, who attended Lauren Sesselmann's match in Boston and caught up with her a few weeks ago:

SOMERVILLE, Mass., August 10, 2013--In the 25th minute of FC Kansas City's match against the Boston Breakers at Dilboy Stadium, Blues center-back Lauren Sesselmann had just witnessed Breakers forward Sydney Leroux get free on a cross by Kyah Simon. Leroux was able to get a goal attempt on target, but it did not have much power and goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart dove to her right and made a strong save.

Sesselmann was not pleased at her team's efforts at defending its goal.

"Let's go, everybody step it up now, come on!" she demanded from her teammates.

Her team did not get the message consistently. Sesselmann had to clear chances out of danger a lot more than she would have liked. She also made mistakes; in the 65th minute, Sesselmann was in position at the penalty spot as Leroux received a pass from Simon at the top of the box. She dared Leroux to shoot; Leroux obliged, placing it in the back of the net for the only goal of Boston's 1-0 victory. It was the Blues' first loss in ten matches, a span of almost two months, and a brief setback in their quest for home field in the National Women's Soccer League postseason. The significance of this result was not lost on Sesselmann, who promptly tweeted after the match: "Uggghhhh."

For Sesselmann, the appearance in a small municipally-owned stadium outside Boston was another stop in a long and winding journey that began upon leaving Purdue seven years ago.

Sesselmann had a strong career as the crown jewel in the fourth recruiting class of coach Robert Klatte's fledgling Boilermaker soccer program. She led the Boilers to a record of  49 wins 10 draws and 10 losses  (read 49-25-10 under North American table/standings construction) and made three NCAA tournament appearances. She set six records at Purdue, including goals, assists, points, match-winning goals, multiple-goal matches, and goal attempts on target. She still holds four of those records; her goals and match-winning goals records were since subsequently broken by Jessica Okoroafo. Of her record-setting 13 match-winning goals tally, none were more important than the 80th-minute winner against Western Michigan in the 2003 NCAA tournament second-round which put the Boilers in the Sweet 16 for the first-and to date, only-time in their history. Sesselmann also had a crucial contribution to her multiple-goal match record; she scored twice in the Boilers' thunderstorm-shortened victory against Big Ten powerhouse Penn State, which remains to this day the only time in which the program has defeated the Nittany Lions. Yet despite her extended success on the pitch in West Lafayette, due to a variety of circumstances, her soccer career reached a dead end.

Two months before Sesselmann's match winner in the NCAA tournament, the main professional league in the United States, the Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA), went under. With no top-flight league and no prospects for a call-up to the United States women's national team, upon graduating from Purdue in 2006 with a bachelor's degree in marketing and communications, she took a day job with IBM as a Midwestern sales representative based out of Indianapolis. Sesselmann still felt that she had more to contribute on the pitch, so one year later, she signed with the semi-pro FC Indiana.

In the 2007 season, playing in the Women's Premier Soccer League (WPSL), Sesselmann appeared in eight matches, scoring four goals. The Lionesses rolled through the WPSL regular season, winning the Midwest Conference conceding only three goals all season, and defeated New England Mutiny 1-0 to win the WPSL championship. The following year, Sesselmann improved upon her performance and shone brightly on the pitch.

Shifting to the W-League in 2008, the Lionesses enjoyed another unbeaten regular season and won the Midwest Division championship. Sesselmann scored nine goals in 14 matches; she then scored twice in the conference semifinals versus Laval Comets and once more in the conference finals versus Ottawa Fury Women, with both matches occurring at the Varsity Soccer Complex in West Lafayette. The Lionesses' quest for another championship fell short, as they lost to Pali Blues of southern California in the W-League final, but Sesselmann set herself up for a chance to compete in the new professional league soon to begin play.

When Women's Professional Soccer (WPS) prepared to kick off its inaugural season in 2009, Sesselmann entered the WPS draft. The Chicago Red Stars, owned by Purdue alum Arnim Whisler, selected her with a fifth-round pick, 44th overall, one spot ahead of US national team legend Brandi Chastain. Yet constant injuries and an overall lack of match-fitness doomed her chances of making the squad, and the Red Stars waived her prior to the season. In May 2009, Sky Blue FC, looking for reinforcements for a depleted attacking corps, signed her to a developmental contract. Yet shortly after joining Sky Blue, they fired the coach who signed her, Ian Sawyers. They changed coaches one more time; under the leadership of player-coach Christie Rampone, Sky Blue rolled through the postseason and won the inaugural WPS championship. Yet despite the club's success on the pitch, Sesselmann appeared in one match for a grand total of one minute; she also did not travel with the club to away matches. Looking for a new opportunity, she went to training camp the following year with Saint Louis Athletica.

Unfortunately for Sesselmann, her time in preseason camp in 2010 ended up in the same fashion as it did the previous year. Unable to stand out in a talented squad, Athletica waived her prior to the season. Shortly thereafter, she signed with the expansion Atlanta Beat, and began a transition to a new position: defender.

Beat manager Gareth O'Sullivan worked worked her out left back, and by the season opener against their expansion cousins Philadelphia Independence, Sesselmann made her first full professional start. Sesselmann strove to maintain her place in the squad, but the following month, her preseason club, Athletica, folded, and the Beat signed a significant portion of their players. In order to make room for these new additions, they waived Sesselmann, then re-signed her to a developmental contract. Seeing the pitch remained difficult for Sesselmann until James Galanis replaced O'Sullivan later in the season.

Galanis experimented with Sesselmann's playing positions, playing her at left back, moving her around the back line, and also giving her a chance at attacking midfielder. In the final match of the season against the Washington Freedom, she started at attacking midfield and created a number of quality scoring chances, before being sent off for a second bookable offence following a hard challenge on Freedom defender Anita Asante. Nonetheless, it was the best performance of her nascent career, which would help her as she began her next phase: acquiring dual nationality.

Sesselmann's father, Ernie, was born at Ernest Harmon Air Force Base in Stephenville, Newfoundland and Labrador, while her grandfather-Ernie's father-was serving in the United States Air Force. Because her father was born in Canada, Sesselmann was eligible to play for Canada in international competition; she was also eligible for Canadian citizenship. In 2010, she obtained Canadian citizenship and began the process of contacting the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) and working to establish herself within the Canadian national program.

Sesselmann sent video of her match against the Freedom and other highlight packages to the CSA and its senior women's coach, Carolina Morace. She heard nothing from them, and Morace went to Germany for Women's World Cup 2011 with most of the squad that won the 2010 CONCACAF Women's Gold Cup, with the exception of the recently-retired Kara Lang. Canada crashed out of the Women's World Cup with the worst record of all participants, and Morace resigned as coach. The CSA then hired New Zealand coach John Herdman; with New Zealand, Herdman had a reputation for scouring the globe to find players from other countries who were eligible players for his team and turning them into consistent producers.

Meanwhile, Galanis installed Sesselmann permanently at left back for the Beat; while the Beat had a poor defensive record, she was a regular starter and one of the back line's most consistent performers. Herdman reviewed Sesselmann's highlight packages and saw enough in her to invite her to training camp prior to two friendlies against the United States in September 2011.

Following the camp, Herdman started Sesselmann at left back in the first friendly at Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan., September 10, 2011. She lasted the entire 90 minutes and performed admirably; Herdman started her again in the second friendly in Portland September 14, 2011. After these friendlies, Herdman named her to the squad that would compete at the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico.

At the Pan Am Games, Sesselmann's major-tournament international debut got off to a rough start. In the 28th minute of Canada's opener against Costa Rica, she conceded a penalty for a hard foul in the box, which Shirley Cruz converted. Christina Julien equalised two minutes later, and from there, Sesselmann picked up her bearings.

In the semifinal match against Colombia, Sesselmann set up Robyn Gayle's winner in the 88th minute following a free kick. Then, in the final against Brasil, her defending helped keep her team in the match; Christine Sinclair's late equaliser sent the match into extra time. It then went to penalties; Karina LeBlanc's save on Debora gave Canada the gold medal. It was Sesselmann's first major international championship, yet neither her team nor her was satisfied with just that result.

Sesselmann was in the squad for Canada's appearance as hosts of the 2012 CONCACAF Olympic qualifiers in Vancouver. Following a brief injury scare resulting from a nasty collision in Canada's opener against Haiti, she formed a strong presence on the back line as they reached the final versus the United States and qualified for the Olympics in London. In the run-up to and during the Olympic tournament, Sesselmann featured in key moments that would signify the hall marks of her career.

Late in the first half of their friendly against the United States that served as the send-off for both teams, United States forward Alex Morgan broke free and rounded past goalkeeper Erin McLeod. Morgan had a wide-open goal to shoot at, and she fired at goal, but Sesselmann tracked back and saved the ball off the line with her chest. Canada lost the match, but Sesselmann's efforts kept them in close range.

In their Olympic opener against World Cup holders Japan, trailing 2-0 and in danger of conceding a third early in the second half, Sesselmann made another goal line clearance which gave her team a chance to get back in the match. When Melissa Tancredi scored minutes later to cut the Nadeshiko's advantage to 2-1, it signified a two-goal shift in the goal differential table should that result hold up, which it did. Following a defeat of South Africa and a come-from-behind draw against Sweden in their final two group stage matches, Canada reached the Olympic tournament quarterfinals, a result that would not have been possible without Sesselmann's last-line efforts.

In the quarterfinals, Canada cruised to a 2-0 victory against hosts Great Britain. Sesselmann, filling in at center back for the third consecutive contest following injuries to fellow defenders Emily Zurrer, Candace Chapman, and Gayle, turned in a solid performance in helping to maintain their clean sheet. It set up a legendary semifinal match with archrivals and perennial opponents the United States at Old Trafford in Manchester, in which Canada took 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2 leads through a Christine Sinclair hat trick, only for the United States to equalise on a late penalty and win the match on an Alex Morgan header in stoppage time of extra time. It was a devastating blow for Canada, but they would still have a chance to medal if they picked themselves up and won their next contest.

The bronze medal match against France started poorly for Canada, as Les Bleues carried the play and had the majority of chances at goal. Yet they could not convert any of their chances, and when Diana Matheson scored in stoppage time, it gave Canada a 1-0 victory and the bronze medal, the program's first significant honours and Canada's first medal in any traditional team sport at the Summer Olympics since 1936. Sesselmann and the national team were feted across Canada on the return home from London, setting up a three-year preparation for the next Women's World Cup in 2015, which they would be hosting; in the meantime, the CSA would be partnering with the United States Soccer Federation and the Federación Mexicana de Fútbol (FMF) to establish a new women's professional league in the United States.

As the NWSL prepared to begin play, the member associations designated between 12 and 18 of each of their national teams' players, to be distributed evenly amongst the eight participating clubs, to receive salaries and subsidies that they would pay for and not the clubs. The CSA allocated Sesselmann to FC Kansas City, along with defensive midfielder Desiree Scott. With the Blues, coach Vlatko Andonovski determined that the best fit for Sesselmann was at center back, the position she began playing at the Olympics. It has worked out for her and the team; so far, the Blues have yielded the fewest goals in the league, while scoring the most. Today's match was her 18th out of a possible 19 for which she was with the team; she has played in every match in which she was eligible for selection, all at center back. Sesselmann credits her central defense partner, United States international and NWSL Defender of the Year candidate Becky Sauerbrunn, with providing a strong influence on her play.

"Playing with Becky has been phenomenal. She is just an incredible player; she is (extremely) talented, and I have learned so much from her. She remains calm (during matches)."

Overall, Sesselmann's versatility on the back line and across the pitch has served her well throughout her career, but she enjoyed her time as a striker.

"I miss being a forward, but at this level, I prevail a lot better at being a defender; I'm just a strong player. That's where I fit in; that's where Coach (Andonovski and/or Herdman) sees me. I had to step it up in the Olympics playing center back; then I went back to left back, but when I came to (FC Kansas City), (Antonovski) wanted me to play center back, and I've been growing into that role."

Sesselmann's career trajectory is a personification of the Boilermaker statue outside Ross-Ade Stadium and the overall Boilermaker spirit. By her own admission, she is not the most technically gifted player; she does not have the most natural talent, and she is not the fastest person on the pitch. Yet despite those limitations, she works hard. She gives 100 per cent effort every time she steps on the pitch; she will not let her opponents outwork her, and she never gives up on a play. The two most iconic moments of her international career speak to that determination, as does her versatility in the team and the game. In short, she will do whatever it takes to help her team win and accomplish its goals. If there is anyone who exhibits the "indomitable spirit of the (Purdue) Boilermaker, it is Sesselmann. Sesselmann and Purdue are a perfect fit, yet it was a pairing that almost did not come to fruition.

As a native of Green Bay, Wisconsin, Sesselmann was looking at universities that were located in communities larger than Green Bay, with a population of around 100,000. West Lafayette did not appeal to her immediately, as it was one of the smallest municipalities hosting a Big Ten campus, with-then as now-more students at the university than permanent residents. Yet she took to the Purdue campus without any hesitation or difficulty.

"Once I got there, I fit in; we made our own fun; I had a great time. I love the campus; it's beautiful and all close together. I had a great time at Purdue. I suggest that a lot of people go there."

Overall, Sesselmann looks back fondly at her time at Purdue.

"Getting recruited (at Purdue) was one of my biggest accomplishments of my career; I had a great career there and got to play with some amazing people. I was coached by Coach Klatte, who is phenomenal; I learned so much from him, and everything that I have learned I have taken into my professional career. It has made me into the player I am today, so I love being a Purdue Boilermaker."

Sesselmann has an opportunity to be a strong ambassador for Purdue University and Boilermaker athletics both on an off the pitch. In addition to her competitive exploits, she has received recognition for an extracurricular modelling career.

Sesselmann appeared in Rogers Sportsnet magazine's 2013 "Beauty of Sport" issue, alongside national teammates Kaylyn Kyle and Emily Zurrer, as well as prominent Canadian athletes, both male and female. She has also been placed in homemade Internet lists such as the "hottest Olympic athletes" and "hottest athletes on social media." She also recently completed shooting a fitness video entitled "Train Like a Pro" and is set to make her feature film debut next year as an actress in the independent production "Nevermore." These additional exploits have helped her in learning world languages, although not necessarily Canada's other official language.

"My French is not so good. I haven't even started trying to learn it. I've been trying to work on my Spanish, but I haven't had as much time with that. I just got a Rosetta Stone Spanish program, so I will work on that first, then move on to French. I use Spanish in my work on the side; it's very helpful in getting around (Los Angeles), and can relate to Italian or Portuguese."

Despite her overall support of Boilermaker athletics, Sesselmann has been unable to be actively involved with Purdue football. Nonetheless, she expects to see a live game shortly.

"I have been (mostly) following the Green Bay Packers; I am a shareholder (in Green Bay Packers, Inc.). I love my Packers, and I need to follow (the Boilers) more. I hope to get back to Purdue this offseason to see a game; I expect big things out of them this year, and I know that they are going to have a good season."

Lauren Sesselmann has spent the last seven years pursuing her dream, a dream that almost did not materialise. It is through sheer determination that she became an international soccer star, which has opened many new doors and opportunities for her. Through these efforts, she epitomises the Boilermaker ethos and sets a shining example for others to follow. Because of her successes, her portrait adorns the walls of the Boilermaker Soccer Complex, providing inspiration to past, present, and future Boilers in all walks of life.