Rachel Leslie is midway through her fourth and final season playing in midfield for the UC San Diego women's soccer team. Out of nearby Santee, she has appeared in 67 matches in her career, including the last 58 in a row since late in her freshman year, and started all 10 thus far during the 2013 campaign.
"Rachel's one of the tri-captains this year," said longtime Triton head coach Brian McManus. "She's been with us four years, and she's been a player that's a great example to everybody in the squad. She's not started all four years, but every time Rachel's come in to play, she gives you 100 percent. She's as honest as the day is long. In practice, in games, she's the same all the time. If the freshman players can feed off of the kind of attitude she brings to practices and games, they will be better players for it."
Leslie and her teammates now head into a critical stretch of seven of their final eight regular-season contests at home inside Triton Soccer Stadium. A season-long six-game homestand commences this Friday, Oct. 11, at 4:30 p.m. against 25th-ranked California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) South Division leader Cal State San Bernardino. With the next four matches all against divisional foes, UCSD still has plenty of time and opportunity to make up the ground it lost over the past couple of weeks. Ahead of the start of this important stretch run, Leslie took a few moments to be our latest guest on Triton Q&A.
Q: Being a San Diego native and now in your fourth year wearing the Triton colors, you are the one and only senior on the 2013 roster. What goes through your mind when you hear that?
LESLIE: It is actually pretty funny to me hearing the phrase, “one and only senior,” because I do not feel like I am the only senior on the team. (Redshirt juniors) Izzy Pozurama and Laura Zellinger have been with me since day one, and it is great to have experienced these last few years together.
Q: As a senior, try to describe your role this season after 10 teammates graduated at the end of last year to make way for 14 freshmen?
LESLIE: I feel like it shifted to more of the leadership role left behind by the graduates. Since my freshman year, the team has always been led by a large group of girls that I deeply respect. With such a large amount of them leaving and bringing in a big group of new girls, I felt like it was the responsibility of the older girls, including myself, to take on the role that the 10 seniors left for us.
Also, I focus on not trying to be someone I am not. I am not super loud or outgoing, so instead of trying to lead that way, I try to lead by example.
Q: Specifically, how much pride do you take in being a tri-captain in your final year?
LESLIE: I would say that it is not as much a pride thing for me as it is an honor. It is nice being able to help lead the team with two girls, Izzy Pozurama and Cassie Callahan, who I completely trust and respect. We have worked really hard this year to try to mentor the younger girls and instill the traditions into them that have been passed onto us from years before and will continue on years and years after we have left. It is an honor to be a part of a team and an athletic program that focuses greatly on academic and athletic excellence.
Q: In addition to being a captain, you've earned another major change. After starting one match over your first three years, you're now a full-time starter. How has that affected your day-to-day preparation and mindset?
LESLIE: Although my role has shifted and I have become a starter, my preparation and mindset has for the most part remained the same. Ever since my freshman year I have had a similar routine for the day before and day of the game. With that said, this change has caused me to take on more of a leadership role while maintaining a consistently strong work ethic.
Q: You've overturned a pair of 1-0 halftime deficits to win games this season, and down 2-1, you clearly were a different side in that second half against Sonoma State before falling 3-2 late. Talk about what Brian's long years of coaching this game provide for you guys at halftime breaks. Is it calming? Inspiring? Adjustments galore?
LESLIE: Of course, every halftime speech is going to be tailored to how each individual game is going for us, but I would have to say that overall, they are somewhat calming. Being a young team, it is easy for us to get anxious and try to do everything at 100 miles per hour, so I think Brian’s talk helps to calm us, yet motivates us to do better in the next half. It is also nice being able to get some different perspectives from our other coaches, particularly (former Triton All-Americans) Jonesy (Kristin Jones) and Ellen (Wilson), who have been in our shoes before.
Q: Four immense South Division games coming up at home for you guys in these next two weeks. How will you approach them and what do you hope and expect to see out of your squad?
LESLIE: We will approach them knowing that these games are super important for us to win in order to come out on top in the South Division. I hope that we can approach these games with confidence and a strong work ethic, and I expect everyone to rise to the occasion.
Q: You've played in two national championship games and won a conference title. What has been your top memory being a part of this program?
LESLIE: My favorite memory being a part of this program would have to be last year when we beat Grand Valley State in the NCAA semis in Georgia after losing to them 4-1 my freshman year. When we lost to them my freshman year in the finals in Kentucky, it was literally the worst feeling ever. Particularly for me, I felt like I had let everyone down and never wanted to feel like this again. I knew that if and when we had the opportunity to play them again, our team would not let it happen like it had before. After the game ended in Georgia and we beat them, it was not only amazing to know that we were moving on to the national championship game, but that we beat Grand Valley to get there.
For me, that trip to Georgia, as well as the trip to Kentucky, will always be some of the most memorable times of my college career. It is a completely different experience when you are in another state, playing against teams that you never have before, with everyone on your team all working toward a common goal. The atmosphere was incomparable to anything I had ever experienced before.
Q: Another Homecoming is approaching fast. Women's soccer is a sport here that historically sees great support from its alumni, be it in the form of recent graduates, or those from further back. What does it mean for you and your teammates to see, feel and sense that support, from La Jolla to Kentucky, Los Angeles to Georgia?
LESLIE: It has been so amazing to see all the support from recent alumni as well as alumni from further back. Looking in the stands and ALWAYS seeing alumni from one year or another cheering us on is a feeling that one just cannot explain. Not only are the alumni there to support us, but also are their families, and that is something I believe is truly unique to UCSD Athletics. I specifically remember feeling so blessed to be able to attend a dinner at the Mendoza’s (an alumni family) while we were traveling for our games in Northern California. I hope to be as involved and supportive as our alumni when I graduate.
Q: Please describe for us how it came to be growing up, that you are left-handed, but primarily kick with your right foot.
LESLIE: Growing up, I had a pretty old-fashioned Polish babysitter who believed that it would be easier to grow up right-handed because the world “was made for right-handed people”. Every time she saw me kicking or throwing a ball or doing anything with the left side of my body in general, she would tell me to change to my right side. With that said, I would always be able to do my homework while she was not around, so I would use my left hand. I guess I just got used to doing mostly everything with my right side, except for a few things like writing and eating. (Editor's Note: Definitely the first "Polish babysitter" reference we've ever had here on Triton Q&A.)
Q: What will be up next for you? When do you plan to graduate with your degree in psychology? Then what?
LESLIE: I plan to graduate in Spring 2014 with a major in psychology and a minor in business. When soccer ends and I have some more free time, I plan to look for an internship or a job in PR or HR in order to gain some work experience. Then after a few years of work experience, I am possibly planning on going for my MBA.
Q: What types of things do you like to do away from the soccer field?
LESLIE: I do what a lot of typical college students do; hang out with my friends, study/do homework and I love to go to the beach. I guess I do not necessarily like to do homework, but it is something that I focus a lot of my attention on.
Q: This question has an obvious answer, but we'll ask it anyway. How would you like your Triton playing career to end?
LESLIE: Obviously, I would love to end my Triton career with a national championship. On top of that, knowing that I committed four years playing a sport that I love with some of my best friends, is a great way to end my Triton career.
Previous Triton Q&A Features
Marie Diaz (Women's Cross Country/Track & Field) October 1, 2013
Joe Dietrich (Men's Water Polo) September 2, 2013
Josh Cohen (Men's Soccer) August 23, 2013
Sara McCutchan (Women's Volleyball) August 9, 2013
Kellen Levy (Men's Cross Country/Track & Field) July 26, 2013
Izzy Pozurama (Women's Soccer) July 8, 2013
Colin Truex (Women's Crew Head Coach) June 28, 2013