Mary Kuder found herself living a dream as a freshman at the University of Portland. Unfortunately, she discovered it wasn't necessarily her dream.
A highly decorated prep player in Seattle - she was Washington Player of the Year in 2003 - Kuder was on the radar for any number of top programs. She recalls whittling down her main choices to Portland, Santa Clara, Notre Dame and Duke, a collection of schools that in any given season might represent the field at the College Cup.
With the encouragement of her parents, she settled on Portland, but it wasn't a choice that left her with a deep sense of excitement.
"I didn't think very big; I thought mostly along soccer lines," Kuder said. "As far as academics, I didn't reach as far as I obviously could have."
Almost immediately, Kuder found herself questioning the decision. Soccer wasn't fun for the freshman and classes weren't challenging.
"I just knew I didn't fit," Kuder said. "The classes -- I didn't need to go to class. I don't know, it's fun for a while for classes to be easy, but after that, you're wasting your money, you're wasting your time. I didn't mix with the team well. It's a bunch of prima donnas on that team, not to call them out on that. But they're amazing players. I loved watching them. [Christine] Sinclair -- that was the highlight of my season -- sitting on the bench watching her and practicing with them. I got better in practice."
Midway through her freshman season, after diving into the college guidebooks all over again, Kuder sent out letters to schools like Princeton, Penn, Stanford and Yale, letting them know she was considering a transfer after the season, when she got a release and NCAA rules would allow for contact from those programs.
After doing his research, Yale coach Rudy Meredith couldn't believe a gift like Kuder was about to land on his doorstep.
"I called every coach that I knew in the Washington area -- club coach, high school coach, I even called the Portland coach," Meredith recalled. "They said to me -- normally you get a little skeptical about transfers -- but they said to me that she's a good player and she's going to play on this team [Portland] in the future. And she's a great kid, too, so you're adding a great person to the team."
Thrown into the starting lineup almost immediately last season, when injuries depleted the defense, Kuder has been a mainstay at outside back for Yale ever since. On the field, she is what you would expect given her personality off the field: calm, composed and quiet. And as her journal suggests, she is also now both busy and happy, having found a home at Yale.
"You'll find great students, great professors anywhere," Kuder said. "I don't want to put down Portland, because it's a great school. It didn't fit me, but it's a good school.
"People always ask me that. Like, 'They won the national championship the year you left.' I'm going to have a degree from Yale; I'm not complaining. I'm happy for them, but I'm very happy and proud of myself for getting here."
Mary Kuder agreed to keep a diary for ESPN.com.
7:15: Wake up, shower, eat breakfast at Calhoun while reading Yale Daily News articles about men's and women's soccer.
8:30: Spanish 132 (Intensive Intermediate Spanish). My Spanish class is particularly small, maybe seven or eight students, because few people are crazy enough to wake up early five days a week for a two-hour language class. I manage, because I use the same strategy for Spanish class that I do for morning lifting in the spring: Remain unconscious for as long as possible so that I can't truly experience the pain.
Language classes, especially French and Spanish, attract many different levels of experience at Yale: native speakers who are fluent but can't write, students with years of class through middle and high school, or beginners. I fall in the middle category; I was in a higher level of Spanish at the University of Portland, but Yale wouldn't transfer the credits. I guess that highlights the different levels of education you receive at the two schools. :)
10:30: DL lab to feed and weigh rats. As part of my major, behavioral neuroscience, I'm required to take a research class. I'm taking "Research in Conditioning and Leaning," a course that teaches you about various operant and conditioning theories, from Pavlov to Thorndike. Part of the class includes lab work with a typical subject, the rat. We haven't actually started any training processes yet, because right now we're simply acquainting ourselves with our rats and underfeeding them so that once training begins, food as a reinforcer will be more effective. So, in this visit, I just fed and weighed my rat, with this goal in mind. "Charles" weighed in at 270 grams. I'm thinking I already have the perfect Christmas present for my 7-year-old brother. :)
11:30: MCDB 120 (Molecular Cell and Developmental Biology) On Science Hill. I'm basically taking Intro Bio. I am one of few upperclassmen in a class full of pre-med aspiring, obsessive note-taking freshmen. The question that follows is why am I taking it? At the beginning of the semester, I made a significant change to my major. From psychology to psych with a track in in behavioral neuroscience. So instead of 12 psych classes, I am required to take six psych and six bio. So here I am in Intro Bio. It's a huge lecture class, where grades are based purely on four exams I will take over the course of the semester. I sit with a cross-country friend, and we take notes for each other when we miss class because of traveling for our respective sports.
12:30: Lunch with Tash, Alex G, Marcus and Travis (all three guys on men's soccer team) at my college, Trumbull. As often as possible, I try to eat with friends from the soccer team, because meals, unfortunately, are my best opportunities to socialize. A couple of my closest friends on the team are in the class below me, because I came to Yale, and was new on the team, at the same time as them. We talk about our classes, our workload, the team and our season, the weekend activities, etc.
1:00: Human Functional Anatomy: Taking anatomy is like taking a second language. My professor jokes at the beginning of the course that another name for his class could be "memorize 5,000 words." As dry as this seems, I really enjoy learning the names and functions of every single bone, artery and muscle of my body. This is the only class I have with another teammate, Mimi. Because my teammates are pursuing such a wide variety of majors, this is often the case. We have pre-med, pre-law, physics, psych, econ, history, polysci, MCDB, English. In fact, I have a hard time naming a major that one of my teammates doesn't have.
2:30: Usually, at this point in the day, I start getting ready for soccer practice; however, Monday's our day off this week!
Instead, I went to the post office to sign up for an appointment to get a passport. I'm hoping to study abroad next semester in Ireland, but if that doesn't work out, at least in the summer. Luckily, Rudy and Fritz are 100 percent supportive of hs players missing spring season to study abroad. They realize, along with soccer, Yale offers many incredible opportunities to learn, grow and experience life.
3:00: Power nap! I'm an eight-hours-of-sleep-a-night kind of girl, what can I say! If I don't get it, the power nap is my go-to solution.
3:30: Homework in my room: Work ahead in Spanish and bio. I have an exam for anatomy in a week, and my studying strategy is to get ahead in all my other classes so I can focus for the rest of the week on just anatomy.
6:30: Dinner with Lindsey Sabel (Yale women's soccer, '03). Tonight, YWS alum Lindsey Sabel had an informal talk with interested upperclassmen from my team about the benefit of networking at Yale. About 10 of us showed up, and it was very much worth it, because I left inspired that regardless of what my major is, or what my major isn't, my career options are limitless, if I use my connections well and start using them early. It was definitely a privelege welcoming Lindsey back for some post-YWS advice (a reminder that there is life after YWS, and it's not all that bad!) Although this particular dinner was unusual in that it was well-organized and included a guest of honor, it's very common for me to eat with a random group of my teammates for a Commons dinner, especially after practice.
8:00: Sterling Library with Tash and Zaria (Starbucks' white-chocolate mocha in hand) to study for my anatomy exam. 8pm -- midnight (or whenever I can't keep my eyes open anymore) is my designated schoolwork time. On the days that we practice, this is especially true. Tonight I was making about 2 billion notecards to test myself on anatomy vocab. With all the writing I did, I'm pretty sure I guaranteed myself arthritis in my right hand in old age.
12:00: Walked home, called my boyfriend (an 800-meter runner at Columbia) to say goodnight. Checked e-mail, text messaged Tash about what time to meet for lift tomorrow, got ready for bed, set my alarm for 7:15 a.m. and fell asleep in about .2 seconds.
Graham Hays is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's soccer coverage. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com.