Nov. 5, 2004
By Pete LaFleur
The 2004 Notre Dame women’s soccer team includes four sophomores in the everyday lineup and three of them – attacking midfielder Jen Buczkowski, defensive midfielder Jill Krivacek and outside defender/midfielder Kim Lorenzen – have plenty of familiarity playing along side one another. Each is a native of the Chicago area and helped lead the Illinois state Olympic Development Team to the 2003 national title, in addition to playing together on various club programs.
Buczkowski recently has grabbed some headlines due to late-game goals and just received first team all-BIG EAST honors but, in general, she and the other Chicago natives are the heroes “behind the scenes,” playing with a style and effectiveness that draws the admiration of the trained soccer fan but often is lost on the casual observer.
“All three of the Chicago players are so important to this team,” says sixth-year Notre Dame head coach Randy Waldrum. “They are big leaders for our sophomore class and anybody who knows the game of soccer can appreciate what they each bring to the field.
“Jen is having an All-America type of season and simply is the player that pulls all the strings out there for us – she just can do so much. Kimmy, for my money, is one of the most underappreciated players in the country because of her great workrate and tremendous versatility to play anywhere on the field. And Jill probably is our most improved player, especially in the air. She is playing with so much more confidence and pace and has done a great job in her role.”
Jen Buczkowski has turned in an All-America-type season as the leader of the Irish midfield.
Buczkowski and Krivacek (a second team all-BIG EAST pick) have been teammates since the 7th grade, first with the Illinois ODP team. They later played on the Arsenal club (based in Buczkowski’s home area of Elk Grove) and moved on to the Chicago Sockers, a respected name in men’s club soccer that was beginning a girls team. Lorenzen – who had been playing on the state ODP team since the 8th grade – then joined the Sockers as a sophomore in high school and the trio has been inseparable ever since.
The Chicago players each had taken unofficial recruiting visits to Notre Dame during the spring of their junior years and made their verbal commitments to the Irish program shortly thereafter. But the recruiting process that landed the “Windy City Trio” did not include extensive discussions between the three players. Krivacek – never one to pass up a chance at humor – often will joke that they were a package deal (saying it was “Sign Jill and get two for free”) but each player made an independent decision that landed the trio back on the same team.
“We would be at club practice and the conversation was like ‘You committed? So did I,” recalls Lorenzen, who unknowingly followed Buczkowski in making her verbal commitment, with Krivacek following suit shortly thereafter.
“It gradually dawned on us that this was going to be a special experience we’d be able to share together. And that’s how it has worked out.”
The decision to sign with the Irish was not a difficult one for Krivacek, who had attended a small Catholic school at Rosary High School. “Once I heard that Notre Dame was interested in me, I knew wanted to come here,” says Krivacek. “I always wanted to come to Notre Dame. It’s close to home, is the best Catholic university in America and has a great soccer program.”
The three friends continued to play together this past summer, as some of the former Sockers players who had merged with the Eclipse Select team that advanced to the semifinals of the 2004 USYSA national club tournament.
Lorenzen has known the 5-foot-10 Krivacek since they were eight, playing on rival teams. “Jill always has been very tall for our age and she was this player who you were afraid of,” says Lorenzen.
The first meeting of Buczkowski and Lorenzen was a fortuitous one, at an ODP practice during their freshman year.
“Jen had been playing with the older age group but she came back to join us when she was 14 and everybody was just in awe of her skills,” recalls Lorenzen, who currently patrols the right back spot in Notre Dame’s dominating defense while classmate Christie Shaner is on the left.
“We were getting ready for the state cup and the coaches asked us to break into positions but nobody stepped to the defender spots. Finally, I said, ‘I don’t care’ and went to be a defender and so did Jen. And that’s how we became friends.”
Buczkowski has her own fond memories of playing alongside Krivacek. “I first met Jill when we were 13 years old at ODP camp,” she says. “We had two girls named Jill on the team so everybody called her ‘TJ’ for Tall Jill.”
Jill Krivacek has been Notre Dame’s most improved player in 2004 while helping hold opponents at bay from her defensive midfield spot.
As things turned out, Krivacek is the master of nicknames – when it comes to giving them, not receiving. She has bestowed several colorful and clever nicknames upon teammates and long ago started calling Buczkowski by the affectionate name of Bambi, because “she thinks I look like a deer,” says Buczkowski.
Krivacek’s extroverted nature and unending quest for humor has made her a natural leader when it comes to team bonding.
“One of my best memories from ODP camps was when Jill came up with this thing called campout,” says Lorenzen. “All the players on the team would put our mattresses in the hallway and we would rest there between sessions. … Nobody else but Jill would think to do that.”
Buczkowski has a similar memory, when Krivacek showed up a national-team camp meeting in full matching pajamas, with teddy bear in tow. “She thought it was a meeting with just our team but it was this whole camp, around 500 people, and she was standing there in her pajamas – only Jill,” says Buczkowski.
“One of the great things about Jill is her awesome personality and it brings out different parts of personalities in other people, especially me.”
Krivacek traces her sense of humor to growing up in a laughter-filled household, gaining elements of her personality from her father Barry and mother Karen.
“My mom is very funloving and always smiling. She likes to laugh a lot,” says Krivacek, who lists Ben Stiller as her favorite comedian. “My dad has more of a dry sense of humor but is very funny.
“I’ve done a lot of stupid things that I find funny … I guess that’s what makes me unique.”
Despite her reputation as a prankster, Krivacek also has her serious moments that include strong appreciation for her Chicago-area buddies.
“Jen is very supportive of me and she always ‘has my back’ out there on the field,” says Krivacek. “And Kim also is so supportive because she knows how much I can give and won’t cut me any slack. It’s great to have two friends like Jen and Kim and I couldn’t imagine playing without them.”
Notre Dame was prepared to play without Buczkowski this season until she made a surprise announcement last spring that she would not be participating in the Under-19 World Championship, which (for U.S. players) involves missing all of the 2004 college season.
“I love it at Notre Dame. It’s a different felling here and of course I also want to win a national championship,” says Buczkowski. “Everyone, especially Jill, was so supportive during that process and I really appreciate them for that.”
Krivacek fittingly was one of the first two learn of Buczkowski’s decision.
“I was really happy for her but it was a hard decision and she put lot of pressure on self to make right decision,” says Krivacek. “I was just trying to be a friend and told her do what makes you happy, telling her that 10 years from now she wants to look back and know it was the best decision. I just told her to `do what makes you happy’ and I think she made a great decision.”
Buczkowski has emerged as an All-America candidate in 2004, adding offensive punch (7 goals, 10 assists) and clutch goalscoring (three gamewinning goals in last five games) to her trademark possession and distribution skills.
“Jen truly is one of a kind because she always so good with the ball,” says Krivacek. “She finds herself in a mess, with two or three players around her, and always finds a way to get out and start the attack. And she will run through a brick wall for the team, doing whatever it takes to get a win. She’s one of a kind.”
Buczkowski, who started playing soccer as a five-year-old with local community programs, is an elite central midfielder simply for her uncanny ability to always keep the ball on her feet as she bobs and weaves through opponents. She also consistently keeps her head up to access the situation, gaining a distinct advantage much like a basketball point guard who can dribble without being preoccupied by looking down.
“Most of those things go back to the teams I played with when I was younger,” says Buczkowski. “The first hour of practice always would be devoted to skills and dribbling. Even with Aresenal, skills and footwork were a big part of practices. The last 15 minutes was for scrimmaging, if at all.”
Buczkowski’s recent late-game heroics are no surprise to Lorenzen, who had a first-row seat for a clutch goal by Buczkowski on a national stage.
“We were in the championship game at the annual WAGS tournament in Washington, D.C., and we were down a goal late in the game,” remembers Lorenzen.
“Jen was playing in the back but our coach called her over and said he was moving her to forward and that we needed her to score a goal. She is so humble that she would never talk about this and she probably will be mad at me for telling the story. But just a couple minutes after she moved to forward she scored the goal. She just has that ability to take over a game wherever she plays.”
Lorenzen – who describes her own youth sports experience as “hardcore” (her many sports, sometimes three in one day, included gymnastics and swimming) – has proven to be the ultimate utility player throughout her college career, playing with equal elite status at central defender, outside back, in the midfield and as a forward.
“I grew up in a neighborhood with a lot of boys who played soccer and it was a game I loved to play as a kid,” says Lorenzen, who has an older brother Michael and younger brother Mark.
“I really enjoy the chance to play different positions and like changing roles, even in the middle of the game. When I went to the ODP team they needed defenders but with the Sockers they needed forward. At Notre Dame, they mostly have needed me at outside back but I’ve also played several other positions so that’s great. However I can help the team, I’ll be there to do it.”
Krivacek received much-deserved recognition as an all-BIG EAST selection, after an often dominating season as the Irish defensive midfielder. One of the biggest “jumps” in her game from the 2003 to ’04 season has been in the air, as she now regularly wins the overwhelming majority of her heading duels.
Like Lorenzen, Krivacek was drawn into soccer while living in the Chicago suburbs with neighboring soccer players.
“The house next to us had three boys who all played soccer and even had a goal in their back yard. They invited me over to play and I’ve been playing ever since,” says Krivacek, who first signed up for organized soccer in first grade and also has competed over the years in t-ball, softball and basketball.
Notre Dame’s current Chicago contingent experienced the thrill of a national title in the summer of 2003 with the Illinois state ODP team, dominating their region and beating Georgia in the semifinals (1-0) before a 1-0 win in the title game over a New Jersey squad that included their future teammate Lizzie Reed.
“When we were younger, that ODP team just dominated our region and we would win games by seven or eight goals,” says Krivacek, whose other teammates on that squad include top college players such as Santa Clara goalkeeper Julie Ryder, West Virginia `keeper Lana Bannerman, Illinois forward Jesse Bain and Texas A&M freshman standout Ashley Pritorious.
“As we got older, the other teams got better but we still won the region every year and reached the national championship game both years that they held it [Illinois lost to Cal-South, 2-1, in the 2002 overtime final]. We started out as a real athletic group of players and then just grew together to become a great team.”
Lorenzen recently was humbled by the comment from a visiting fan, quickly taking her back to her soccer roots.
“There was a lady at one of our games and she remembered watching me play soccer in Chicago all those years,” she says. “It made me realize how we’re representative of Chicago soccer and that people are proud of what we’ve achieved.”
Buczkowski and Krivacek both have a younger brother named Chris and, like Lorenzen, neither has a sister. So perhaps it’s fitting that the three have come together over the years as loyal friends and teammates, forming a soccer sisterhood that permeates throughout the Notre Dame program.
That sense of community was formed early in the fall of 2003, when each member of the then-freshman class reported early for a series of voluntary captains practices. The 10-member class initially was going to squeeze into one hotel room but instead settled for two adjoining rooms. But the coziness of the lodgings and the early week of practice only helped to build the growing bonds of friendship.
“Most of our class had come to Notre Dame the previous fall for our official recruiting visits during the same weekend but there naturally was some uneasiness with that and everyone seemed pretty shy,” remembers Krivacek, whose other classmates hail from the widespread geographical makeup of New Jersey, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Ohio.
“But that first week in the hotel quickly brought us together and now we all are the best of friends.”
As they look to their future, the Windy City Trio are unanimous in their hopes for a lifelong friendship. That should hold true for the entire sophomore class, now a vibrant nine-member group that often “challenges” the other members of the team to scrimmages and has energized the program with their fun-loving spirit.
“As a class, we talk about being in each other’s weddings and timing the births of our children,” says Krivacek. “When we graduate, we want to get the Shaner’s RV and just drive around the country.
“We’re just having too much fun together. I can tell already that we won’t want it to end.”