For the second time in 10 months, graduate student defender Marina Paul lay down on the field, upset and uncertain.
“I still remember that moment,” Paul said. “I still have replays of that moment in my head. … I felt like everything that I had worked for in college was shattered in that moment.”
It was a practice in early September 2015, and Paul had reinjured her knee, the same right knee that she had torn up in the 12th minute of the previous season’s Big East championship game. Except this time, she was a senior. And her season was over.
But Paul’s competitive spirit would not let her quit. And now, the three-time captain is back, intent on taking a fifth shot at an elusive title.
Four years ago, Paul arrived at an up-and-coming Georgetown program, one that had seen a dream run to the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament just two years prior and a pattern of relative success under Head Coach Dave Nolan. That same year, Paul found herself on then-North Kehoe Field a bit nervous, the only true freshman in the starting lineup taking on local rival The George Washington University on a hot mid-August opening day.
Georgetown needed to win and probably deserved to, outshooting GWU 18-5 that day. But a 1-0 Hoya lead felt tenuous until Paul latched onto a cross from forward Colleen Dinn and slotted the team’s second goal past the keeper with her left foot. Just 65 minutes into her Georgetown career, Paul had scored.
And she kept going. Paul played in every game her freshman year on the way to a Big East All-Rookie Team award, and the team reached the Big East tournament final before losing 1-0 to Marquette on a goal fewer than three minutes from the end of regulation. That game was the closest Paul would get in four years to lifting a trophy.
Georgetown women’s soccer continued to experience success, vaulting into constant competition for the top 25 rankings week in and week out as it reached two Big East semifinals and one final in the following three seasons. For the first time ever in program history, the team earned four straight bids to the NCAA Tournament.
Paul became the team’s leader as co-captain in 2014 with Daphne Corboz and as the lone captain in the two years since.
But without a Big East postseason title, the feeling lingered that Georgetown was still somehow almost there, but not quite. For the incredibly competitive Marina, a trophy would be a dream realized.
Paul talks to her brother, Chris, who plays for the Fort Myers Miracle in the Minnesota Twins farm system, almost every day. When he played for California, she watched all of his games on GameTracker.
“He’s one of the most supportive people in my life, with anything,” Paul said. “Obviously I look up to him because he’s older, but also because he’s one of the best guys I know, just in terms of his character on and off the field. He sets a really great example for me.”
Sports run in the Paul family. Mara was almost a tennis player in college and continues to run marathons. Ron was almost a soccer player. Both decided to live and go to school on the beach instead. After her injury, Paul recalls a moment of clarity when talking about the difficult decision: to stay and play another year, or to move on with her parents. She remembers realizing that she only had so many opportunities to be a college athlete.
“When am I going to have a chance later in life to be this competitive again? I have the opportunity right now,” Paul said.
The first time, Paul chose Georgetown the way many Hoyas do: She wanted to get away from home — Aliso Vieja, Calif. — wanted a big sport to cheer for — men’s basketball — and upon visiting she fell in love with the campus.
Since then, she has experienced D.C.’s character for herself. One summer, she had to take the bus everywhere she went and found herself loving her interactions with the locals. She also works at men’s basketball games with Georgetown Sports Information. The second time around, despite her love for D.C., the decision did not come easily.
“I definitely wrestled with it,” Paul said. “It’s your senior year, and all the girls you’ve grown up playing with, all the girls in my year, they’ll all be gone in the real world. I see them all go, see my friends go, and it’s hard.”
Ultimately, though, as captain, she understood her commitment to the team to push through tough times and to lead.
“I don’t think Dave would have selected me as a captain if I couldn’t get through things like this,” Paul said. “And showing younger girls on the team that when hardship hits, it sucks, but you can get through it.”
When asked about her future after Georgetown, Paul reacts as would many an undergraduate senior — that is, awkwardly at first, then with a growing smile, by confidently describing the dream.
Her program studying Integrated Marketing Communications at the School of Continuing Studies, taking downtown classes, ends next fall. From there, taking inspiration from Daphne Corboz at Manchester City and Sarah Adams at FF Lugano, she hopes to travel and continue competing.
“I would love to play abroad,” Paul said. “God willing, my body holds up. But I would love to do something abroad, and to have international experience would be incredible. Just to see the world, and be able to play with different players from around the world, would be a really great experience.”
The initial injury was not easy for Paul, as she had to watch Depaul defeat Georgetown for the 2014 Big East title from the sidelines. The second injury may have been even tougher.
“I took it extremely personally. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m not athletic anymore if I tore my ACL again …’ I had some big goals set for myself. And just knowing that I wouldn’t be able to complete those was pretty defeating,” Paul said.
Paul’s identity was soccer, and in a single moment soccer had been taken away, at least for a while. She decided to intern at Bluemercury, a cosmetics company, to discover what else she was good at and to potentially pursue other passions.
In deciding to come back and setting soccer goals again, Paul has lived up to the captain position. Her big-game experience, as well as vocal leadership on the field, provide an invaluable boost to the team.
“She manages to connect with all the girls on the team in a positive way,” Nolan said. “Not every person can lead all varieties and connect with all players.”
Junior defender Liz Wenger, who partners with Paul in central defense, always goes to Paul for makeup and skin care advice and more.
“She is a lot of fun. She’s been there when I’ve needed her,” Wenger said. “Through that relationship with her freshman year, rooming with her on away trips, we’ve gotten really close. And when you need her she’s definitely there for you.”
Due to injury, it has been 20 months since Paul has played regularly, and through five games in 2016 she has not yet started. Of course, this does not sit well with such a competitive athlete. Nevertheless, she has found a way to lead.
“I always expect things to go the way I want them to,” Paul said. “And they have and they haven’t this year, and the maturity that I can bring knowing that there are higher goals, higher team goals, we want to achieve.”
Given an opportunity in the Hoyas’ overtime win over then-No. 12 Rutgers, Paul impressed with her ability in the air and gave Nolan a tough personnel decision to make heading into an important weekend.
“She’s a good example for the other kids, because as she’s tried to overcome her hurdles to get back, she’s had to accept that she has a responsibility to show others how to overcome their hurdles, whether they be injury or lack of playing time or whatever they may be,” Nolan said. “And she’s managed to do that well.”
Sometimes Paul will surprise you. Sometimes she will strike a thunderous 25-yard volley into the top corner, as she did against Delaware. But the rest of the time, as is her responsibility, she will be the rock of the defense, the ever-competitive leader, and the captain, striving one more time for the Big East title.
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