Written Senior Perspective - Danielle Etzel, Women's Soccer

Photo by Gil Talbot
Photo by Gil Talbot

The 2019 Senior Perspectives is the 14th in a series of annual collections. Senior captains and representatives of teams at Harvard have been invited to contribute viewpoints based on personal experience from both their senior seasons and full varsity careers at Harvard.

Danielle Etzel, Women's Soccer
Hometown: Madison, Conn.
House Affiliation: Mather

Joy. Pure, simple joy. With the soccer ball at my feet (or in my hands), that is how I feel. In rec-league tie-dyed shirts when I was six or in the Harvard goalkeeper jersey at 21. On snowy frozen turf, or in the blazing heat in the middle of the summer. In pick-up leagues in Geneva, or in the Ivy League. In a small town in Connecticut, or in the Istria Cup in Croatia. You name it, I’ll be there.

I have been amazed and humbled by how far the sport has taken me and how many lives have touched me through it. It has been a privilege and a joy to share the field with extraordinary teammates, mentors and coaches who have given me lessons not only for the field, but for life.

I have been stretched, shaped and challenged by this sport. I have strived, I have persevered, I have been beaten, shaken and bloodied, but I have gotten back up. And, I have done so for the very simple reason of why I started the journey in the first place: for the love of the game. If you keep that perspective, then the reasons for the struggle and for how and why you made it through become amazingly clear. I have loved everything about soccer and everything surrounding it because these thousands of moments and things were rationalized by the love for this sport. I looked for meaning, and it came down to one simple thing; joy. Pure, simple joy.

It’s not just orange slices at half-time. It’s a snack as sweet as the smell of the fresh grass, a combination that got you excited to go anywhere where you could lace up your cleats.

It’s not just a coach teaching you the technical skills- it’s an exercise in belief, self-confidence and patience that transcends the field.

It is not just diving on the ground to make a save on a pitch more dirt than grass- it’s a gritty mentality that comes from hours of hard work combined with something that just can’t be taught.

It’s not just hours spent in the car, bus or plane- it’s the crunch of your feet on the grass when you finally arrive to your home away from home, the pitch.

It’s not just conditioning or a hard practice- it’s knowing that to give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift. Show up, plain and simple.

It is not just an early morning practice- it’s fresh dew on the pitch illuminated by the sunrise that gives an exciting skip to the ball on the field.

It’s not just the white lines painted on the freshly cut grass- it’s a community you learn to know by name that makes every game possible, from grounds crew to carpool crew and every named individual in between.

It’s not just a national anthem at the beginning of a game- it’s looking up to the sky in ritual, wondering how you got so lucky to continue to play the sport you love.

It’s not just a soccer ball- it’s 18+ years of experiencing a game that brings people together in ways you never could have imagined. It’s a sport, but it’s so much more than that.

First and foremost always, I play because it’s fun. That’s what my mother told me from day one. Through the highest and lowest moments, the love for the sport and all it offered never wavered. Through it all, it was fun. Pure, simple joy. And, after that, just go play. That’s what my dad would always say. It’s so easy to get caught up in the stats, the times, the standings, that we forget why we started playing in the first place. At the end of the day, it’s simple. It’s that girl in the tie-dyed shirt who’d run around until her face was bright red. Who didn’t mind the dirt, the heat, the cold, the snow. Pure, simple joy. I played for her.