The 2012 season ended abruptly for Kim DeCesare and Callie Simpkins.
As part of the 2009 recruiting class that took Duke from under .500 in their freshman year to a national championship appearance in 2011, DeCesare and Simpkins were looking forward to another deep run in 2012.
“At the time, I didn’t think we were stoppable,” Simpkins said. “In my mind, we weren’t going to lose.”
But the Blue Devils came up short, knocked out of the quarterfinals by a Penn State penalty kick, ending the careers of many in that 2009 recruiting class. For DeCesare and Simpkins, though, there was still a chance for one more go-around.
Both players came into their freshman season at Duke sidelined by injuries, and as redshirt juniors, had one more season of eligibility available.
Simpkins struggled with her decision and ultimately chose not to return next season, but for DeCesare, returning was never a question.
“I got hurt my freshman year so I knew that I wanted to take a fifth year—a ninth semester—from the time I got to Duke,” the Massapequa Park native said. “My plan from the start was to play.”
After sitting out her first season, DeCesare played 20 games as a redshirt freshman then 27 games the next season as the Blue Devils’ top option off of the bench.
That year, Duke made its first-ever national championship game appearance, powered by a defense anchored by four players in that 2009 recruiting class.
“I’m super lucky to have come in with that class…. I think that we had the opportunity of changing the program and starting a new culture for our team that I’m super proud to be a part of,” DeCesare said. “It’s sad that I’m going to play another season without them, but… I’m happy to be a part of the upcoming senior class as well. It’s the best of both worlds I’d say.”
Last season, DeCesare moved into the starting lineup—playing primarily forward for the first time in her Duke career—and the team recognized DeCesare’s value as a senior leader by naming her one of three captains, along with Simpkins and senior goalkeeper Tara Campbell.
As a redshirt senior, she will be even better prepared to lead the Blue Devils.
“There’s something about being a senior two times,” DeCesare said. “You have more experience and you just kind of know the ropes.” Simpkins, too, enjoyed her role as a captain and made the most of the opportunity to mentor her younger teammates, but for her the decision whether or not to come back was not so clear-cut.
After completing a summer internship with Goldman Sachs in New York and receiving a job offer for the following year, Simpkins had a lot to consider going into the fall.
“My mind changed a bunch during the season and at one point, it was getting to be like I was thinking about it too much,” Simpkins said. “What was I going to say? Was I going to leave? It was taking away from how much I was able to enjoy the moment.”
With the decision looming over her, Simpkins reached out to a former Blue Devil for advice.
Ashley Rape, who tore her ACL in 2011, faced a similar decision to come back for another season, ultimately deciding to move on to a position at Bridgewater Associates, an investment management firm. The former Duke defender told Simpkins to stop thinking about it and play the season as if it would be her last, Simpkins said.
Being able to relate to Simpkins’ position, Rape also provided her former teammate with advice.
“[People would say] ‘Just do what’s best for you. I can’t tell you what I think,’ which is frustrating,” Rape said. “So I tried to tell her exactly what I thought but also say to her, ‘You have to take all these inputs and make the decision for yourself.’” Rape and Simpkins also looked to head coach Robbie Church and his staff for advice.
“They want the best for us as people, not just as soccer players so it was almost frustrating at times because I wanted them to tell me what to do,” Rape said. “[They would say] ‘We’d love to have you with the Duke family, but at the end of the day, your personal growth and your happiness are more important to us than anything else.’”
Simpkins also called on another member of the Duke soccer family to help her work out the decision: Duke’s leading goal scorer in 2006, 2008 and 2009 and current Goldman Sachs employee KayAnne Gummersall.
Having communicated with Simpkins throughout the course of the summer internship, Gummersall, who now works in Chicago, understood Simpkins’ options and helped advise her.
“Obviously, your senior year is filled with a lot of emotion. I remember thinking I would give almost anything to get one more year when I was a senior,” Gummersall said. “Unlike Callie I had used up all four years of eligibility. If you had asked me at the time, I probably would have stayed all four years at Duke, but I definitely didn’t know what I know now…. The way I saw it, she had this opportunity now, and I told her if I were in her shoes, I would probably go for it, but at the same time, it was her decision.”
After the season ended, Simpkins did not immediately tackle the decision.
When she started to think about a final decision, she did not consult DeCesare about it to avoid being tempted to join her friend for a second senior year based purely on how fun it would be, Simpkins said.
Around Christmas, she made her choice, electing to forego her final year of eligibility and accept the position at Goldman Sachs.
“For me, it’s just my time to move on,” Simpkins said. “I feel like I’m going to thrive in the next chapter of my life, and I’m ready to pass the torch on to the junior class. I feel like they’ve done a really good job with this program, and it’s their turn to lead.”
Gummersall, who said Simpkins is wise beyond her years, was excited about the her fellow Blue Devil’s future.
“I think Callie is absolutely incredible,” Gummersall said. “I think she will do great things. My money’s definitely on Callie going forward… and I’m excited to have her as a teammate again.”
Back in Durham, DeCesare has high expectations for her and her teammates. With one last shot, the redshirt-senior to-be is itching for another shot at winning it all.
“We’re still striving for a national championship, and I don’t plan on achieving anything less than that,” Decesare said.
With an attitude like that, it is not hard to believe that DeCesare, who has aspirations to play soccer after college as well and possibly become a collegiate coach, was always going to come back for one more season.
“One teammate asked me, ‘Kimmy, are you sure you’re coming back next year?’ And I was like ‘Yeah, I’m sure I’m coming back.’” DeCesare said. “I wasn’t against changing my mind… but I knew I was going to stay. I love this place too much.”