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Ashley Lawrence interview: Canada midfielder stepping out with the leaders of the new school

Photo: WVU Athletic Communications

Photo: WVU Athletic Communications

 

A FIFA World Cup goalscorer and a key part of a record-breaking season at West Virginia University, this year will live long in the memory for midfielder Ashley Lawrence, who continues to show the kind of exhilarating promise and personality people have come to associate with Canada’s cluster of emerging talent.

Approaching the 2015 World Cup with the prestige and expectancy that invariably comes with being the host nation, Canada had a roster packed with tournament experience and players widely known across the game. Coach John Herdman also opted to include three teenagers; 17-year-old midfield prodigy Jessie Fleming and the 19-year-old West Virginia Mountaineers duo Kadeisha Buchanan and Ashley Lawrence.

Buchanan went on to be named Best Young Player, while Fleming came on in the opening win over China before starting the final group game with the Netherlands in Montreal. The latter of those matches brought Ashley Lawrence, a player Herdman said had been ‘lighting it up in midfield’, the biggest rush of her young career to date.

Appearing four days after a 20th birthday which included playing in a goalless draw with New Zealand, Ashley lined up in the Olympic Stadium with over 45,000 in the crowd. Ten minutes into the game, the ball ran into her path after Sophie Schmidt’s effort was diverted away from goal, leaving the former Ottawa Fury player to gleefully sweep home and bring her nation to its feet in celebration.

Kirsten van de Ven earned a draw for the Dutch but Canada had done enough to make the knockout phase, where they dispatched of Switzerland to reach the quarter-finals. Although their run ended at the last eight to England, the sheer scale of the competition was arguably way beyond anything that had previously surrounded the women’s game, creating a simply huge experience for the Canadian squad and indeed all other players involved.

The build-up had been enormous, especially for the hosts, and while the professional focus was at its maximum any team has to find the balance during such a long stretch together. Ashley, who has just enjoyed an impressive junior year with a WVU side that reached the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight, reveals one of the ways the Canada team lightened the mood this summer.

“During the World Cup we had a karaoke machine and a bunch of the team took turns singing. I did ‘Drunk in Love’ by Beyoncé and Jay-Z.

“To me it went pretty well but maybe others thought different! It was hilarious and so much fun.”

Along with Kadeisha Buchanan, Ashley started all five of Canada’s games at the tournament, and as has been increasingly documented this year, her bond with the defender goes back to when they were teammates at nine years of age in Brampton. Ashley’s club, college, provincial and national team counterpart was the interviewee on here last June and in addition to her love of reggae and hanging out at Coopers Rock State Forest she touched upon her friendship with Ashley.

The pair are among the most eager movers in the locker room for their country, and as has been discussed by various Canadian players on here in the past, music is at the very heart of the team. A debutant at just 17 years old in January 2013, Ashley describes her experiences of the group’s expressive personalities on game day.

“Well we typically put together a playlist beforehand and everyone can contribute a song they like, so there is not one specific DJ, but we do have some dancers on the team. Kadeisha Buchanan is always killing her dance moves and the likes of Desiree Scott, Kaylyn Kyle and Karina LeBlanc have some moves, too.

“We do a song ritual where everyone must get up and dance, but that’s a secret.”

 

Ashley (left) with long-time teammate and close friend Kadeisha Buchanan. @A_Lawrence99

Ashley (left) with long-time teammate and close friend Kadeisha Buchanan. @A_Lawrence99

 

The player Christine Sinclair described as ‘an attacking force’, Ashley is currently with the national team in Brazil as she sees out a deeply memorable year at the Torneio Internacional de Natal de Futebol Feminino. Alongside the established names like captain Sinclair, forward Melissa Tancredi, goalkeeper Erin McLeod and midfielder Diana Matheson, there are four newcomers in the ranks – defender Kennedy Faulknor (16), midfielder Deanne Rose (16), and forwards Gabrielle Carle (17) and Marie Levasseur (18).

Shortly after her World Cup participation, Ashley helped Canada to the semi-final of the Pan American Games in Hamilton, and no matter what the competition there is always guaranteed to be a tuneful element to her game preparation.

“I listen to a variety of music genres, however, when it comes to soccer, my pre-game playlist always has Drake on it. I mean of course it’s a bonus that he is Canadian, but I really enjoy his music.

“To me, music plays a huge role in my life and can change my mood dramatically. It’s one of my main sources to get pumped for a game!”

At the World Cup opening ceremony, widely-renowned Canadian vocalist Sarah McLachlan was one of the performers, as were compatriots Tegan and Sara, while a Celine Dion song is never too far away when the national team are around. As Ashley thought back over live music shows she has seen, it was a fellow Ontario native (with a little international fame to his name) who quickly sprang to mind.

“When I was 15 I went to go see Justin Bieber with some of my teammates and friends. I would like to see Drake in concert, and I almost did this past summer for his annual OVO Fest.”

A keen swimmer in addition to her dancing growing up, Ashley’s star had started to shine on the field as a youngster for Brams United Girls Soccer Club as she displayed distinct early tactical awareness and technical proficiency. She rewinds the track to those childhood days with some pop reminiscing.

“I can’t remember the first CD I bought, but growing up I loved the Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears and Destiny’s Child! Music has changed a lot since then.”

While it was a big year at international level, Ashley has also hit the heights in the college game. In her junior year at WVU, she recorded her single-season best tally of five goals and eight assists (18 points) for the number seven-ranked Mountaineers and was named to the NSCAA All-American First Team this month.

Kadeisha Buchanan was also included, marking the first time the program has had two players in the same season named to the First Team. It was a season full of records for Nikki Izzo-Brown’s side as the Mountaineers appeared in the Elite Eight for only the second time, registering a best-ever 19 wins, 61 goals and 15 shutouts.

Becoming the only team to win a fourth straight Big 12 Conference regular season title, they matched their best post-season ranking, achieved in 2007, as they moved up eight spots from 2014. The terrific Mountaineer season eventually ended at Penn State’s Jeffrey Field, with a 2-0 loss to the eventual championship-winning Nittany Lions only the third time WVU had been kept from scoring in 2015.

One of the MAC Hermann Trophy semi-finalists initially announced, Ashley was named to the NSCAA NCAA Division I Women’s All-Central Region First Team along with teammate and senior forward Kailey Utley, as well as the aforementioned Buchanan. Defender/midfielder Leah Emaus is one of six seniors bidding farewell to WVU and the New Yorker will also leave a void when it comes to the locker room sounds, as Ashley explains.

“On the WVU team we have many DJs, from Leah Emaus, Kadeisha Buchanan, Yulie Lopez, Michaela Abam, and many dancers on that team. I’m not typically the DJ but I pick my moments when to dance.”

So far at the Torneio Internacional de Natal de Futebol Feminino, Canada have beaten Mexico 3-0 and most recently defeated Trinidad & Tobago 4-0. The latter of those games saw Christine Sinclair score her 158th international goal to move level with U.S. legend Mia Hamm in second place on the all-time scoring list for women’s soccer.

The youngsters who have represented the team in recent times have certainly had some significant role models to look up to, both in the way they approach being a top-level player and also in the character they exude. Music allows the team to connect with each other in all sorts of ways and a number of players, as well as coach John Herdman, have detailed it in conversation on this site.

Midfielder Sophie Schmidt was the most recent to feature and the latest of many to praise the singing talents of goalkeeper Erin McLeod, who frequently receives mention along with midfielder Desiree Scott in that regard. Ashley has also enjoyed the accomplished stopper’s off-field performances, highlighting them when asked about the team’s all-round liking for musical release.

“I have been fortunate enough to have experienced many of these moments. However, one of the most memorable would have to be when Erin McLeod sang on the bus when we were in Cancún.

“She is an amazing singer and artist. To me, it’s nice to see other sides of people.”

Comfortably the youngest player on Canada’s roster at the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in Trinidad & Tobago in 2010, Ashley went on to appear in the same tournament two years later in Azerbaijan. Last year, she was part of the Under-20 side that reached the competition’s quarter-final on home soil, so she had plenty of experience of international tournaments by the time her big moment arrived this year.

That said, the World Cup at senior level is unrivalled in so many respects, and this year’s edition went beyond what had gone before in terms of worldwide viewership and number of millions following online and via social media, for example. Wearing number 22 for Canada, Ashley lined up as a starter for each game and the enormity of the spectacle she got to play a principle part in is something she appreciates completely.

“That experience taught me so much as a player and person. For starters, it was my first World Cup experience and at the age of 19, just turning 20, it was something special.

“Playing in front of 50,000+ fans every game was amazing. As a soccer player, the environment was so professional and brought women’s soccer to another level.

“Being able to play amongst the best female players in the world was something I’ve always dreamt about.”

 

 

With their long-time understanding to go with their respective individual qualities, now-four-time consecutive Big 12 Coach of the Year, Nikki Izzo-Brown, and WVU had no hesitation in recruiting both Kadeisha Buchanan and Ashley. Although they are both very much their own person as well as incredibly promising players they have shared so much together in the sport and consider themselves to be like sisters.

In addition to the highs such as winning in front of a passionate and colossal home crowd on the greatest stage of international soccer, there have also been the difficult moments, like the hurt that came with last-eight elimination in Vancouver. Ashley feels grateful to have gone through these vastly different emotions at such an early point of what she hopes will be a considerable career in the game.

“The speed of play was so much faster and it challenged me to step my game up. The journey was not an easy one but I learnt a lot about myself as a person and how to deal with different situations, good and bad.

“I was surprised at how far I could push myself and it gave me the confidence to pursue any goals and aspirations I want in life because I know I can achieve them with determination. That experience showed me that.”

In February, Ashley will hope to be part of the Canada side that secures a safe passage through to the Olympics in Rio. They will face Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago and Guatemala in the group games in Houston, with the winners of the semi-finals gaining qualification.

Ashley was named to the Academic All-Big 12 Soccer Second Team, to add to her achievements of recent months, and we can surely look forward to more of her box-to-box play over the next year and beyond. She once said it was the best feeling for her to set someone up for a goal, but as we’ve seen already the Toronto-born performer doesn’t mind being the one to finish a move off in style.

As she continues to soak up all that surrounds her soccer world, learning from Diana Matheson, Sophie Schmidt, Christine Sinclair, and all the rest of her outstanding mentors, this midfield starlet also has her sights tuned into a bigger all-round picture.

“I am pursuing a sport psychology major and now a minor in business. I know school is important and I’m working to get my degree.

“My ultimate dream is to play soccer professionally and to continue to represent Canada. I also enjoy reading books on business and learning as much as I can about it.

“I hope to one day become a CEO of my own company. I already have a few ideas.”

To catch each of these interviews you can follow me: @chris_brookes

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