The Championship confetti has already fallen once on Camryn Biegalski’s Washington Spirit story, and she is hopeful they may shortly reprise their role as NWSL number one. Whether another addition to the ring collection is imminent or not, the versatile wide player has felt blessed to be amongst a team where tactics are only part of what keeps them in sync.
These have certainly been changing times at Washington Spirit, with intrigue and excitement at Michele Kang’s landmark acquisition last year felt far beyond even the league itself. A club’s on-field output will, nevertheless, always take centre stage, and NWSL viewers are by now well aware of the lightning bolts that can come from a fully-firing Spirit team.
Game day or otherwise, it is the kind of energy that is never far away, with team chemistry that could be considered one part volume, two parts variety.
“I feel like we always have a speaker with us,” explains third-year Spirit player Camryn Biegalski. “We’re always putting music on; all different types of music, it’s always a good vibe.”
“Even on the bus, we’ll bring a speaker on, and play music before practice, after practice, during recovery. Dorian Bailey, she is the designated DJ; we get country in there, we get some rap, we get some pop.
“Sam Staab, a hundred per cent is up and moving, Maddie Elwell; they are the life of the party in the locker room. I’m definitely someone who needs to be dancing around with teammates; I like to be calm and relaxed, and having fun.”
A coveted prospect coming out of college, 2019’s Big Ten Defender of the Year turned pro with Chicago Red Stars, in what became a dramatically-altered 2020 NWSL season once a pandemic made its way into play. Her Chicagoland entrance to the league, though, brought local pride for the Lombard, Illinois native, who had been a standout for the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
While much has changed for the 25-year-old since UW, she describes why a touch of school spirit is still going strong, four seasons into professional life.
“The locker room (in college) was crazy. I think the ‘Cha-Cha Slide’ (DJ Casper) we played every single home game before we left the locker room, so that’s really good memories.
“Again, crazy atmosphere, dancing, loud, and I’m glad it’s like that here, too, because that’s what I’m used to.”
Getting set to defend a corner-kick is probably not the moment when she would have expected a flashback to her Wisconsin team’s adopted anthem, though that came recently in the Spirit’s trip to Houston Dash. What better way to focus than hearing ‘everybody clap your hands!’ calling out to fans over the stadium speaker (courtesy of virtual set-piece coach, DJ Casper)?
It was a game she had started, demonstrating her attacking promise from out wide; part of an ongoing assignment to make raids down the right not just part of her game but her stock-in-trade.
“Growing up, I was actually a forward, but then they started transitioning me to outside-back, and I was really mad! Hated defence, obviously; I wanted to score all the goals.
“Ever since then – it was probably around 13 – I’ve been an outside-back. All of college, Red Stars, and even here up until this year, I played outside-back, but now they have me playing as a winger, and I’m really enjoying it.
“I’m enjoying the process of it, learning it, the different movements, and obviously, I get to play next to some of the best players in the country.”
— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) July 29, 2023
It is with those players that she shares ambitions of soon recapturing the glorious outcome of two years ago, with play-offs waiting if they can maintain their top-six berth (currently 5th) heading into this Sunday’s final game of the regular season (v North Carolina Courage). Their challenge in 2023 has come under the stewardship of a Championship-winning coach (with Portland Thorns), in Mark Parsons, returning to the club this season after eight years away.
From the playing personnel, motivational duties are typically taken on by the aforementioned Sam Staab and Maddie Elwell, alongside U.S. Women’s National Team forward Trinity Rodman – bringing the noise, all in the name of togetherness. Singing from the same songbook comes even easier when some of the players are doing literally that in their spare time.
“Recently, with a couple of teammates, I just went to Dierks Bentley,” Camryn recalls. “Bayley Feist, Sam Staab, Tara (McKeown), Maddie Elwell; it was a good group, it was really fun.”
That kind of concert strikes the perfect chord with the Spirit number 30, as a personal subscriber to three chords and the truth.
“Yes, I really enjoy listening to country. My favourite artists are Jon Pardi, Carrie Underwood, Dierks Bentley, HARDY – there’s a lot!
“At the moment, I really like Chris Stapleton ‘White Horse,’ but aside from country, I do like old-school rock; Fleetwood Mac, John Cougar Mellencamp, Van Halen. The old-school rock kind of comes from my dad taking me to practice or games on the weekend; super early, he would put on his music, and that’s kind of the stuff that it would be.
“I think it brings out good memories for me, and it’s feelgood music, so I really enjoy that.”
— Big Ten Soccer (@B1GSoccer) October 31, 2019
The country affection, she says, can be attributed in part to where she has spent no lack of time with family over the years.
“The way I explain it to people is I grew up in Lombard, which is straight west of the city (Chicago), pretty close, but my family has a farm. You know how some people have lake houses, stuff like that?
“We have a farm, so we go to the farm every weekend and hang out there. It’s fun, good family time, love being up there.
“I consider that more home than my family’s place in Lombard, because usually when I do go home, I spend more time at the farm.”
One of four siblings (with brother, Chase, and sisters, Cailyn and Claire), Camryn thinks back to a little more of her early inspiration, when asked for the first music she remembers having to herself. Once upon a time, the only D.C. in her life was Disney Channel.
“Probably Hannah Montana! That was my first concert, Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds.”
But why go to the trouble of getting your own teen sitcom commissioned when you can assume a popstar alter ego from home? Asked about her Avril Lavigne outfit for Halloween a couple of years ago, Camryn explains why winger is not the only alternative role she has been cast in.
“With teammates, they’ve seen pictures of me in high school, and I had colourful hair, kind of crazy, so we always say my alter ego was Avril Lavigne.”
A certain validation comes with successfully impressing new teammates in your first training session, confirming just why you were deemed a worthy addition to their group. For most players, singing for those same colleagues offers no such comfort of being able to draw upon what you do best.
Camryn recalls the sinking realisation that she, too, had been called to the initiation stage, at the Spirit.
“When I first got here in 2021, it was kind of mid-pre-season, so all the rookies had already done theirs, but since I was new on the team, they had me do it. I think we were on an away trip, and I thought they were joking, but they were like, ‘No, you have to stand up and sing,’ and I was petrified!
“I think I sang ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ – I think I forgot the words I was so scared! That was the only time I’ve had to do that.”
More than content to leave that to the professionals, Wisconsin’s first NWSL draftee since ex-teammate Rose Lavelle (three years earlier) considers who would be top of her picks, if given the chance to see any performers from all-time in concert.
“I really want to see Jon Pardi. I really, really want to see Carrie Underwood.
“Travis Tritt, I think would be a really cool concert. There’s so many – I could name every country artist!
“A big one by us is Country Thunder, but I was never allowed to go to that! When I was in college, I did go to Summerfest, in Milwaukee; I think I saw Florida Georgia Line.”
Camryn’s own turn to get her shine on (any Florida Georgia Line fans in tonight?) came when scoring her first professional goal this season. July’s 4-2 win over Gotham FC in the Challenge Cup saw her latch on to Amber Brooks’ pass inside the box, firing an angled effort into the roof of the net.
Just over a year earlier, she had helped supply the first of Maddie Elwell’s career (against Racing Louisville), delivering the cross before Elwell arrived at the perfect time to bury a rebound from Ashley Hatch’s header. She was right on cue again here, at the exact moment that Camryn was being asked which current or former teammate(s) she would choose to record a cover song with.
“She just walked past – probably Maddie Elwell! She’s always singing in the locker room; she’s actually a really good singer.
“There’s probably two: Maddie Elwell and Trin, Trinity Rodman. They’re always singing, they’re really good singers, so I would probably want to be a back-up singer, maybe just harmonise a little bit!
“A song? I don’t know…maybe a Rihanna or Beyoncé song, where they can really hit the vocals.”
If a switch to a country sound was decided on for the follow-up single, which Spirit player would be least willing to close their eyes, flannel-shirt up, and think of Nashville?
“I could see (Trinity Rodman) doing it, only because she likes to sing, but I don’t think she would know any of the songs! So, yeah, I’d probably say Trin (would be least likely), maybe Ash Sanchez.”
The Championship ring they earned together in 2021 might have since been consigned to second place in Camryn’s collection. Biegalski is set to become Berry, with an engagement announced earlier this year.
Her fiancé, Jack Berry, spent part of last year as netminder for the Elite Ice Hockey League’s Nottingham Panthers, with Camryn joining him in England after the conclusion of the NWSL season.
“I was there for two months in the off-season, so I got to spend some time in Nottingham, and I enjoyed it! It was a cute, quaint city, they had a really nice hockey arena.”
She also got a first taste of a Premier League atmosphere when watching Nottingham Forest (men) at The City Ground. Top-level play, though, is something she is well accustomed to by now.
Alongside defensive tutelage from the likes of Spirit and NWSL original Tori Huster, hers is a team containing the electric attacking threat of Trinity Rodman, one of the league’s strongest focal points in Ashley Hatch, international-class midfield options Andi Sullivan, Ashley Sanchez, and more. An athletic, enterprising competitor herself, Camryn details the in-game feel of her role around such players.
“I think it kind of depends on the situation. We’re told and taught to go one-v-one and take players on, but with Trin and Hatchy, I’m also kind of looking for them on their runs and their movements, because they make really good runs, and usually, they’re in the box.
“I need to get better at thinking about shooting, and they will tell me that! There’ll be chances where I’ll pass the ball, and Trin will be like, ‘Shoot the ball.’”
Last season brought her career’s biggest involvement yet, with 25 appearances (17 in the league) leading to a new one-year contract in December. A further 13 overall have come this year, with obvious hopes for more, should they make the upcoming play-offs.
There is no overstating how significant a shift jumping from college to professional can represent in a young player’s life. Included within that can be the mental adjustment of going from a sure-fire selection – Camryn started the entirety of her last three seasons at Wisconsin – to having to climb the ladder again from scratch.
— Wisconsin Soccer (@BadgerWSoccer) September 12, 2020
To even be in her fourth pro season, a feat that many players never manage to attain, is testament to her adaptability. Have there been moments along the way, however, where it felt overwhelming?
“Definitely. Especially when I first started playing, with COVID; 2020 was my first year, so it was a really hard adjustment and I really struggled.
“And it takes getting used to, because the quality is so different, and the people you’re playing with, the way people talk to you and kind of push you, because this is our job. People are a lot more intense, but if you have a good group around you and good coaches, it’s a lot easier to transition, I think.”
Then comes the ‘gameday fits’ in the NWSL, where stadium entrances for home players are more akin to a fashion-show runway. It took a few years, but the routine has now become a central part of the league’s culture, embodying the desire for creativity and expression across the competition.
“Some people love doing that, and you can tell by social media who’s super into it,” Camryn laughs. “I like to be comfortable before games, and sometimes, trying to think about an outfit stresses me out too much, so I just throw on whatever!”
“But occasionally, I’ll do something fun, like this past weekend I wore (Spirit teammate) Marissa Sheva’s Ireland jersey with Maddie (Elwell). Some people like to go all out, I like to stay a little comfy.”
Irish green for Sheva ☘️🇮🇪 pic.twitter.com/m611Rk6tsp
— Washington Spirit (@WashSpirit) September 30, 2023
At 25, she currently represents both experience and promise, keen to continue diversifying her skill set, while getting the chance to excel at what she does best. Camryn shares the approach that she believes resonates most with her from those she works with.
“I think I need coaches that are invested in me and see my potential, and I do have that here. There’s coaches here that have been working really hard with me, doing film with me individually, pulling me aside and talking to me about things that I need to get better at, technically or tactically.
“So, I think having coaches that make me aware that they’re invested.”
Investment could scarcely be a more pertinent term for Washington Spirit at this point. Michele Kang’s acquisition of the club in March 2022 was a record deal ($35m) for the league at the time, with the tech entrepreneur and philanthropist’s takeover this year of eight-time UEFA Women’s Champions League winners Lyon then signalling the beginning of a first global multi-team organisation in the women’s game.
The early stages of Kang’s leadership have helped offer new belief in an idea of empowerment that has long been uttered in the women’s game, but too often carried little substance when push came to shove. The Spirit’s impressive staff hires include Dawn Scott (senior director of performance, medical and innovation), previously the USWNT’s acclaimed high-performance manager for 2015 and 2019’s World Cup triumphs.
On the field, the Spirit host a North Carolina Courage team this Sunday (15th October) who are level on points but two places higher in 3rd, thanks to goal difference. With eight teams still mathematically capable of finishing in the four remaining play-off places, Camryn knows her side will be a danger to anyone, should they seal post-season qualification.
“I think this team’s capable of winning it all.”
Stepping back momentarily from the magnitude of that immediate objective, she gives a glimpse into her longer-term thinking (did someone say Bieg things ahead?).
“Ever since I was little, I’ve always wanted to play professionally, and I told myself I would. And, you know…I’m living my dream!
“So, I don’t want to put a number on the years I’m going to play, I’m kind of just taking it day by day and seeing where it goes. I’ve got to stay healthy, and got to make sure I’m having fun, but I’d like to play for a while.”
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