Laurel Buck, a second-year MAIR student and #12 on the Johns Hopkins Women’s Soccer team, spoke to us about her team’s undefeated season and the life of a grad student-athlete.
Hi Laurel, thanks so much for sitting down to chat with us today. Let me first ask, where are you from?
Chantilly, Virginia! It’s a little outside DC, in Northern Virginia.
NoVa! So you’re a local. And how long have you been playing soccer?
Well, my mom says I started playing when I was three.
That’s what she says! You start playing on teams, actual teams, at six or seven. I started traveling when I was nine.
Did you play other sports, or was soccer the main focus?
My mom made me play a sport every season. I played soccer and basically every other sport… I played volleyball and basketball and even tried figure skating for like five minutes. I did a lot of different things, but soccer was the one I really stuck to.
You’re in the MAIR program at SAIS, and that means you took a break to study abroad for a year in Italy. Then, as I understand it, you immediately got back into soccer when you returned. Was that a difficult adjustment?
Yeah, it was super difficult. I think the hardest part for me was actually leaving… my soccer teammates are my best friends. My class is twelve people, and it’s super super close, so it was really hard to leave five games into the season and go to Italy without any of my friends.
Coming back, I was really glad I played for a little bit because I got to meet all of our freshmen and get integrated on the team. It was a little tough at times; I had to work out a lot in Italy to keep up my fitness and had to work out a lot over the summer. I also had to play in a summer league just to get back into playing competitive soccer.
The adjustment wasn’t super bad though! My coaches were really supportive of my going to Italy, and I thought it was worth it because SAIS is such a unique and interesting program, especially the fact that we got to study in Italy.
So you’re a grad student-athlete! I understand those are pretty uncommon – is that because of eligibility rules?
Yeah, things are kinda weird right now because the NCAA gave everyone a “COVID year,” meaning that instead of using an eligibility year, you just got an extra year. Everyone that was in college during COVID effectively has five years of eligibility, which is very different from normal. Usually, it’s four years and you’d have to get hurt to use an extra grad-level year. Because of that, we actually have… nine grad students on the team. Seven of them are transfers, and then Rachel [Jackson] and I went to Hopkins for undergrad.
It’s an abnormally high number, especially for D3. But Hopkins is different than other programs because we have so many great graduate programs we can pull from.
How does it compare to when you played in undergrad?
It’s super different, in my opinion. Since SAIS is in DC, I have to commute from Baltimore to DC twice a week, which is really weird, but I also only take two classes in person and two online. I’d say it’s a lot more self-managed than it was in undergrad. Doing undergrad at Hopkins and playing a sport was always very stressful… whereas playing during my graduate year has been seven weeks of lower stress levels, and then two weeks of that were the most stressful time of my life. And that’s pretty much the cycle for the semester!
Like I said, grad school has meant way more time management on my part… on the days I commute into DC, I’m busy from 7 AM to 4 PM, and then it’s time for practice! I definitely had more free time during undergrad.
What position do you play?
I play center back, which is the center defender on the back line. As a defender, my main job is just stopping the other team from scoring. In our system, being a defender also means that we have to start our attacks; we like to build out from the back, which means that anytime our keeper distributes the ball, we pass it from the center backs up to the attack. Basically, my role is a lot of defending and a lot of marking forwards, but also not losing the ball in the buildup to the attack.
I’ve heard that you have the “personality of a true center back,” can you explain what that means?
[laughs] Uh, interesting that you heard that. I’ve maybe been known to be an aggressive player. And pretty physical. I’m also very competitive, and I’d say my biggest strengths are being pretty strong and never afraid of contact. That all plays into being a center back.
This week the team is headed to the NCAA semifinals, and you’ve had an amazing season, 20 wins with 0 losses. What do you think has made the team so successful this year?
Our team chemistry is insanely good. Everyone on the team genuinely likes each other and genuinely likes to hang out with each other and wants the team to go as far as they can. That’s really important. Everyone wants to be the best teammate they can be, which makes us more cohesive on the field and creates a really positive environment.
Also, we just have an insanely talented team! Some of our players are simply amazing and we don’t have a weak spot across the team. We have great forwards who can score well, a midfield that’s super strong, and a back-end that doesn’t give up many goals.
Does this season feel different than previous ones?
Every season is a bit different because you never have the same group of girls playing together… and this season we have a huge team; there are 36 of us, which is a ton for a soccer program.
I think that we’ve always had great chemistry, and there’s always been a really positive environment, but this season the pieces really fell into place. It’s our coach’s third year, and he’s really settled in. The style he’s imposing on the team has been really good, and we’ve bought into it really well.
What’s the mood like on the team as you play through the nationals?
Everyone is excited. We’re all really looking forward to what we can do this season. We’ve been working for the games that we’re getting to play now. It’s been a goal of ours to go as far as we can, and I think that we’re really excited about how far we have the potential to go.
We definitely haven’t even played the best we can play yet, which is really exciting. It’s nice to know that we have a lot more in store, and I would say that everyone is really motivated, really competitive, and ready to win. Nobody wants our first loss to be now.
Are there any athletes that you personally look up to?
I’ve always looked up to the U.S. women’s national soccer team just because they’ve always been one of the dominant female teams in all of sports, and they’re just so impressive. They’ve been really great people to look up to, and they’re great role models.
I also really like Becky Sauerbrunn, she’s a central defender on the USWNT, and I’ve always been really impressed by her.
So what comes after SAIS? What field/industry are you interested in? Any job offers?
As of right now, I’m signed to work for Capital One as a business analyst in their development program, which I’m really excited about! That starts in August, and I’m really looking forward to it.
In general, I’m super interested in intelligence and government policy. One of my MAIR focuses is Security/Strategy/Statecraft. Next semester I’m taking one intelligence course, and I’m waitlisted for another. DC has some really great intelligence-geared courses, and I’m really looking forward to them.
Do you have any plans to continue soccer in some capacity or maybe another sport?
Not to the level that I’ve been playing soccer now… not that level of competition, but, well, you can’t play a sport for 20 years and then just stop. So I do anticipate that I’ll probably play some kind of rec league.
Any last words to your readers and fans?
Stream our games! Go HopSoc!!
You can watch John Hopkins play in the Final Four on December 2nd here.