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From Cagan Stadium to the Washington Spirit: A tale of two teammates

Courtesy of Karen Ambrose Hickey

From the podium at the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) draft, two Stanford teammates had something very similar to say.

“It’s always been my dream to play professional soccer,” said Jordan DiBiasi ’19.

“It has been a childhood dream of mine to be playing professional soccer,” echoed Tegan McGrady ’19.

DiBiasi and McGrady are two of the five members of the Mob: Stanford women’s soccer’s class of 2019. Joined by fellow seniors Averie Collins, Alana Cook and Michelle Xiao, the five have led the Cardinal to a dominant 82-6-5 record over the past four seasons.

After four years together, DiBiasi, the third overall pick in the draft, and McGrady, the seventh overall pick, walked the stage of the National Women’s Soccer League collegiate draft in Chicago as new members of the Washington Spirit. In a crowning moment, they walked away from the draft the same way they came in: as teammates.

But before they were luminaries, champions and leaders, the two were young children with dreams.

Courtesy of Stanford Athletics

DiBiasi: Early success

A native of Highlands Ranch, Colorado, DiBiasi played club soccer for the Colorado Rush, a member organization of the prestigious United States Soccer Development Academy (USDA) league. As a member of the USDA, DiBiasi could not play for her high school team. She names this as one of many sacrifices she made during her childhood in her pursuit of excellence on the field.

“If you ask anyone on the Stanford team, they’ll say they sacrificed a lot growing up,” she said. “You sacrifice a lot of social events for soccer and that’s something that I will never regret.”

With the support of her parents, Wendy DiBiasi and Joe DiBiasi, her stepmother Kath Keen and older brother, Joseph, DiBiasi excelled while playing for youth national teams. She was a two-time National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) Youth All-American and captained her club team to the 2011 Elite Clubs National League title.

“I’m just really thankful that with every sacrifice I’ve had to make, I’ve had the support of my family,” she said.

In high school, as she approached the decision about her next four years, DiBiasi had a simple philosophy.

“My approach was, ‘I want to go the the best program possible and work my hardest to get the opportunity to play,’” she said.

DiBiasi: Stanford journey

Stanford’s storied history of women’s soccer excellence made joining the team an easy choice for DiBiasi. As a freshman, DiBiasi was joining a Stanford side that went 20-2-3 while advancing to the College Cup for their sixth time in seven years, and finishing with the No. 3 ranking.

DiBiasi’s four-year record is nothing short of remarkable. She started 91 of 93 possible games during her four years. As a freshman, she was on the Pac-12 All-Freshman Team. As a sophomore, she was named All-Pac-12 honorable mention. As a junior, she was All-Pac-12 second team while making the College Cup All-Tournament team as Stanford won the national championship. And as a captain her senior year, DiBiasi was All-America first team, a finalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy, United Soccer Coaches Scholar Player of the Year, Pac-12 Midfielder of the Year and for the first time, All-Pac-12 first team.

“You come into this tradition of excellence and from day one I wanted to work my hardest and leave my legacy on the program,” DiBiasi said. “As a soccer player, you’re around the best players in the world, training with them every single day. I don’t know how you don’t grow.”

And there was a lot of growing. DiBiasi started all 23 games in the midfield her freshman season, scoring five times after registering an assist for her first point. Her 0.186 shot on goal percentage was by far the lowest of her career, but she already showed flashes of the “clutch” player she would become, tallying her first four game winning goals.

Stanford’s assistant coaches, Hideki Nakada, Margueritte Aozasa and Kayley Sullivan were instrumental in helping DiBiasi realize that growth.

“[The coaches] are so supportive of us as players and also as people,” said DiBiasi. “You don’t really have your parents here at college, obviously, so they’re kind of like your family. To know that people care about you, that relationship is really special.”

This past season marked the completion of DiBiasi’s journey from standout freshman to fearless leader.  

“I was really excited to be a captain this past year and I think in general my class has had a really big impact on this Stanford women’s soccer team, which is really exciting for us,” she reflected.

DiBiasi captained by example. “My mentality is a strength,” she said. “I always get asked, ‘Why do you score the clutch goals or what not?’ and I don’t know, I have no idea, but I guess I would attribute that success to just wanting my team to be so successful and to win.”

For DiBiasi, mental and emotional inputs are just as important as the outcome on the scoreboard. Despite a national championship title and myriad personal achievement awards to her name, DiBiasi says that the biggest win of her collegiate career came in the third round of the 2017 championship, when she rallied the team around their injured teammate, Michelle Xiao ’19, and scored the winning goal.

Courtesy of Stanford Athletics

McGrady: Local excellence

Hailing from the local city of San Jose, McGrady grew up playing for the Mountain View-Los Altos soccer club and her high school team, Santa Teresa. Like DiBiasi, McGrady says that she has also made significant sacrifices for the sport — but it was always clear to her that pursuing soccer at this level was the right decision.

Despite McGrady’s resolve, the sacrifices were often difficult to swallow.

“Missing high school dances, missing just those little things that at the time felt like the biggest thing in your life,” she said. “It’s decisions along the way and sacrifices you make, but in the end they all pay off if you really put the time and effort into them.”

Playing for the U-17 US Women’s National Team (USWNT) along with her high school team, sometimes even McGrady’s soccer career made it difficult for her to play soccer.

During her sophomore year, McGrady had played with the national team in matches that had not been properly cleared with her high school league. Her principal signed off, but the national team had not submitted the paperwork 30 days in advance, causing McGrady to be suspended from her high school team.

“That one was definitely one of the hardest things I’ve been through just because that was my sister’s last year of playing soccer in high school,” said McGrady. “My freshman and sophomore years were truly the only two years that I ever got to play soccer with her in an organized game.”

All of this meant McGrady and the rest of her team were punished for the mistakes of adults. McGrady’s Santa Teresa team would have won the league title with a 14-2-2 record. However, the suspension also carried forfeits for the games she played in while ineligible and the team was dropped to 10-6-2.

Six years later, McGrady has come to see the episode in a new light.

“It’s something that we look back at now and laugh at because the team did still end up winning and it was something that showed that I wasn’t needed,” McGrady joked. “I think it allowed my team to grow as a whole too and for them to step up on their own.”

McGrady eventually found her way to Stanford. She only had to drive 30 minutes from her childhood home in San Jose, the home where a poster of the 2008 Stanford women’s soccer team decorates her room.

“Because we lived so close, [my parents] had season tickets along with many other family members and even family friends,” said McGrady. “I had the most amazing support during my time here at Stanford. My parents just about traveled to every single away game too.”

Across the 93 games she played, McGrady estimates her parents missed five.

JEREMY REPER / isiphotos.com

‘Ruthless’

A leader from the outset, McGrady’s commitment to her team often made it difficult to balance her academics with her demanding soccer schedule.

“[The time commitment] makes you dial in on the things that you never thought you’d have to,” said McGrady. “I’ve caught myself turning in assignments right before practice is about to start.”

Of course, the extreme demands put on student-athletes are that much more intense in a program where winning the national championship has become an annual expectation of the fans, the media and the team itself.

She hates to be cliché, and she admits she’s borrowing from the documentary made about the 2017 National Champion team, but there was only one word that McGrady could use to describe the Stanford women’s soccer program: ruthless.

“Absolutely ruthless,” said McGrady. “It is a team that is out there every day putting in more work than you can imagine into everything they do.”

That ruthlessness was on full display when Colorado — and its perfect record — came into Cagan for the team’s senior day this year. Stanford scored seven goals. Colorado scored none.

“It’s amazing to have a team that can do that,” said McGrady. “Our team is big on leaving a legacy.”

Before the game, as the seniors were announced in front of their home crowd, families joined players on the field holding massive cardboard cutouts.

“It was all just another surreal moment that I will never forget,” said McGrady. “But it was a bittersweet moment knowing that it was one of the last times I would play with that class all together.”

Through all of their accomplishments on the field over the past four years, the Mob became a tight-knit support network who McGrady calls her best friends and her family.

According to McGrady, the Mob’s goal of creating a tradition of excellence informed their work on the field day in and day out.

“We were going to give 110 percent every day we went to practice — we were going to stand behind one another to make sure that this team did not fall,” McGrady reflected.

The draft

DiBiasi set the stage for the day that she, McGrady and their other teammate, Tierna Davidson ’20, headed to the professional soccer draft. The three were filled with uncertainty, nerves and excitement as the event approached.

“The night before we kept getting notifications on our phones about these trades happening — potential trades — and so personally I had no idea where I was going to go, which was really exciting but also a little nerve-wracking,” remembered DiBiasi.

“Honestly, it’s kind of all a blur at this point,” added McGrady. “It was just a surreal feeling.”

“The next morning we showed up pretty early and it was this huge space and really professional,” DiBiasi said. “Everyone [was] pretty silent and every 10 minutes two coaches would go to the back room, kind of talk and come back and like 20 minutes later you’d find out there was a potential trade on the table.”

Luckily, but not surprisingly, DiBiasi had the support of her teammate.

“Tegan and I got to sit right next to each other during the draft, which was really helpful,” she remembered.

‘It was crazy’

Having been named U.S. Soccer’s 2018 Young Player of the Year, Davidson went to the Chicago Red Stars as the first pick in the draft, which DiBiasi said was highly anticipated.  

Hailie Mace of UCLA heard her name next when she was drafted to the New Jersey-based Sky Blue FC. Then the Washington Spirit were on the clock to select a player.

“I didn’t know what to expect and all of a sudden I heard my name,” DiBiasi said. “There’s this video and my mouth just drops open, my dad’s mouth is dropped open and Tegan’s is dropped open.”

As the first person drafted who was in attendance, DiBiasi headed to the stage.

“I kind of knew what I wanted to say, like I knew there was a speech, but not really, so I went up and kind of blacked out,” recalled DiBiasi.

The Spirit had traded up to select DiBiasi, worried she would be unavailable by the time of their next pick. DiBiasi said seeing the team’s clear interest in her gave her that much more confidence.

“She definitely deserved that for the body of work she had at Stanford, there’s no doubt in my mind,” said Paul Ratcliffe, Stanford’s head coach. “She’s a great soccer player and even better off the field and in the locker room, she’s a fantastic person.”

Of course, the Spirit also came away with McGrady.

“Hearing my name finally be called and getting to walk up on the stage and just meet everyone from the organization that I’ll be playing for was a surreal moment,” described McGrady. “Like I said in my speech, it was just something that I had dreamed of since I was a little girl.”

Like DiBiasi, McGrady said that her speech was quite “spur of the moment.”   

One of the people she thanked in her speech was Ratcliffe. The feeling was certainly mutual.

“There are not many left backs that you’ll find that are dominant left-footed players with her kind of pace and her kind of ability,” said Ratcliffe. “I think she has a really strong future in the league and hopefully the national team in the future.”

For now, Ratcliffe can look on, proud and beaming.

With the knowledge that they will be reunited in the professional ranks, DiBiasi and McGrady can rest assured that their graduation from Stanford this year will not pull apart their fast friendship.

“That girl, she’s one of my best friends by far,” said McGrady of DiBiasi. “We’ve shared so many moments here at Stanford. To be able to say we’re traveling to the same place with each other next is amazing.”

“I’m really excited about the Spirit, I have been doing my research since being drafted and [Washington Spirit head coach] Richie [Burke] seems like he’s going to push us,” DiBiasi said.

DiBiasi said she is greatly looking forward to playing with Spirit midfielder Andi Sullivan ’17 again, who provided great leadership and mentorship during their time together at Stanford.

“It’s really helpful that Andi Sullivan, ‘Sunny,’ is there and so to be able to reach out to her and kind of understand what to expect, the style of play,” she said. “I’ve been able to learn a lot from her during the three years I got to play with her here.”

While Stanford continues to watch McGrady and DiBiasi as they begin their professional careers, McGrady and DiBiasi will surely be keeping an eye on Stanford as well.

“I’m hoping that that kind of work ethic and optimism I have carries on in the Stanford soccer team,” said DiBiasi.

“I’ll forever keep up with Stanford women’s soccer and I’ll for sure be coming back,” added McGrady. “I can’t wait to come back and see what the team has done.”

Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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