Monday, June 17, 2013

Soccer, And Astronauts, in Sonoma County.

One topic I return to from time to time is the unusual importance of soccer in Sonoma County.  For instance, back in December I noted that Sonoma County produces as many female Division I soccer players each year as you would expect of a city the size of Houston, Texas. 

The importance of producing exceptional female athletes is an easy thing to underestimate.  There are a number of national institutions where women are under-represented, and where such individuals can have a disproportionately positive impact. To name just a few of those institutions, I'd think, say, of the United States Naval Academy, the United States Marine Corps, the Stanford University Department of Mechanical Engineering, and NASA as candidates for the short list. 

The best, most recent example of how those soccer players can shake things up is Nicole Aunapu Mann, 35, a 1995 graduate of Rancho Cotate High School (Rohnert Park).  At the United States Naval Academy, she was a Trident Scholar, and was one of the most decorated women's soccer players in Patriot League history, serving as Navy's soccer team captain in her senior year, while being named Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year two-consecutive seasons by the league's coaches. In addition to her Patriot League accolades, she earned NSCAA All-Mid-Atlantic Region honors four-straight seasons.  Navy's premier defender, Aunapu's primary responsibility was to mark the opposition's top scorer. She anchored the Mids' defensive unit which set a school record with 14 shutouts in 1998 and was third in the nation for shutouts per game (0.67). The Navy defense was ranked eighth in the nation that season with its 0.56 goals-against average and allowed a league-low 12 goals, and Nicole Aunapu Mann was subsequently named to the Patriot League All-Decade Women's Soccer Team.

After graduating from the Naval Academy in 1999, she joined the United States Marine Corps as an F/A-18 pilot, and subsequently attended Stanford University, where she received her master's degree in mechanical engineering.  A test pilot for the Corps at Pauxtent, now-Major Nicole Aunapu Mann was selected today to serve as an astronaut by NASA.

Did soccer have anything to do with her success?  Here's her thoughts on the matter, from the Naval Academy Newsletter (2011, Issue 1, page 5):
"'Playing sports at the Academy forced you into situations where you had to learn leadership skills', Mann said. 'Getting ready to play a game equals the same kind of feeling I get before I fly. You're strapped into a 40,000-pound jet, headed for a mission over Iraq or Afghanistan. You're nervous and excited and it's game time. It's time to perform. Then, you take off and you're playing in the moment.'"
It bears repeating that you'd expect there to be a women's soccer magnet -- the equivalent of, say, Monongahela, Pennsylvania or Odessa, Texas.  The thing you might not expect (but probably should) would be the impact those women would have in their post-athletic careers ...