Note: The following appears in the Appalachian State gameday football program. To purchase a copy of the program while supplies last, send a check for $6 to Clemson Athletic Communications; P.O. Box 31; Clemson, S.C. 29633 with your return address.
By Chas Williams // Athletic Communications
When asked to describe her school in one word, junior midfielder Catrina Atanda created her own word. She described Clemson as being her “home-away-from-home,” however, her path to Tigertown was a bit unconventional.
The Belle Mead, N.J., native first stepped foot on a soccer field at the age of three. Her older brother, Corey, was playing organized soccer for his first time and his sister decided to join the squad. She was the only girl on the team when she first started, but she credits playing with boys for her development early on.
“I was never a step ahead of them…it was more of a challenge for me to stay at their pace since they were bigger and stronger than me,” said Atanda. “I was born into a soccer family. My brother played and my dad and uncle both played at Virginia. Soccer was in my blood and so was the competitiveness that I still have today.”
As Atanda’s talents improved, she ultimately found herself playing for a local club team, Players Development Academy, where she would remain from age eight to 18. She admits that it might seem a little strange staying with the same squad, especially the way players often bounce from one team to another, but she and two of her teammates remained with PDA their entire amateur careers.
It was not until 2002 that Atanda realized she wanted to compete at the next level.
“I’m a soccer fanatic and I watched the 2002 World Cup, my favorite to this day, and I loved the games so much and knew one day I wanted to play at that level.”
As Atanda began high school, she started to hear from different recruiters around the country, including Clemson, Florida State, Maryland, Northwestern and Rutgers. When it came time for her visit to Northwestern, however, with a visit to Clemson scheduled a week later, she committed to Northwestern and cancelled her trip to Clemson.
A few weeks later, Atanda received word that the Northwestern coaching staff was going to change and decided to decommit. She then scheduled a visit to Clemson.
“I called coach (Eddie) Radwanski and ended up coming on a visit, and I committed while I was still in town,” recalled Atanda. “Everyone was smiling in Clemson and so happy and friendly, and I loved it. I definitely saw what people meant by southern hospitality.”
During her first two years on campus, Atanda recorded 13 goals in 28 games. She led the Tigers in goals and points scored as a sophomore in 2014, and was named Second-Team All-ACC and was the recipient of the team’s Deliah Arrington Offensive MVP Award.
Two games into the 2015 season, Atanda scored the decisive goal in the Tigers’ upset win over No. 8 South Carolina in August.
She admits that being the leading scorer a year ago adds some pressure.
“I do put pressure on myself because I know a lot of people are counting on me, but I know I can achieve more with the team around me than I can individually.”
Atanda also likes to take time to watch others enjoy the game.
“I like to sit on Bowman Field and watch people play soccer. One day, I will build up the courage and ask them to join, but until then I’m just a spectator. I love to watch people play with so much passion.”
Some students know before they are five that they want to be a Tiger. For others, their path might be more unconventional, like Atanda’s. But when they step on campus for the first time, something seems to change. They feel what many of us know as the Clemson family, which was evident last season during the NCAA Tournament selection show.
Atanda recalls her favorite moment at Clemson being that very show, when the team was surrounded by coaches and student-athletes from other sports and learned it had made the tournament for the first time since 2007, an accomplishment Atanda and the rest of the squad aim to repeat in 2015.
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