In late November 2013, Natasha Anasi, Mollie Pathman and Kim DeCesare departed from the pitch one last time together as Blue Devils. After playing alongside each other in 84 games, all three had finished their Duke careers.
Little did they know that they would have the opportunity to play as teammates again.
At the National Women’s Soccer League’s draft in Philadelphia Friday, the Boston Breakers used three of their six picks on Duke standouts, selecting Anasi 13th overall, Pathman at the No. 23 spot and DeCesare with their 34th pick.
“I didn’t even know what to do [when I heard my name],” said DeCesare, who was in attendance for the ongoing National Soccer Coaches Association of America Convention. “I was thrilled to be going to Boston and thrilled to be going with my two teammates. It doesn’t get better than that.”
The Massapequa Park, N.Y. native could not contain her excitement when she heard her name called and came to the realization that she would be re-joining her teammates.
“I stood up and I walked over to the general manager, shook his hand and I went to go shake everyone else’s. I didn’t realize I wasn’t supposed to because I was so happy so I went to shake the coaches’ hands and they were like ‘oh no, you’ve got to go around the stage,’” she said.
The Breakers made a big draft haul in preparation for the second year of the NWSL, selecting six players in the 36-pick draft—a group that also included Michigan forward Nkem Ezurike, Virginia Tech forward Jazmine Reeves and Villanova goalkeeper Jami Kranich. That the team claimed three Blue Devils in the draft was a product of the team’s needs, Boston general manager Lee Billiard said.
“We had some specific players that filled some specific roles for us,” he said. “It just turned out we had three big players that were on our list…. and the way the draft worked out, these girls were left on the table and they filled holes for us.”
Anasi, who followed the draft via Twitter from home, had little clue ahead of time that she might end up in Boston.
“I had no idea [where I was going],” she said. “My mom maybe follows the blogs more than anyone does, so she had some ideas of places, but Boston was never mentioned, so it was really exciting. It’s a great area, great city.”
For all three players, there was little contact ahead of time with any teams in the fledgling professional league. The three Blue Devils, along with teammate Laura Weinberg, had registered for the draft and informed teams of their availability but heard very little heading into the draft.
Much of the professional scouting takes place through video and talk within the coaching community, Billiard said.
“We spoke to coaching staffs and asked around about these players through all the networks that our coaching staff have,” Billiard said. “That’s how we end up surmising that these could be the players that could come in and fill voids for us on the field, but also, in speaking to people it seems that these girls have the character to deal with situations off the field to represent the Boston Breakers brand.”
With little buzz surrounding the draft stock of professional prospects, Duke head coach Robbie Church sought advice from fellow coaches to make sure he was doing everything he could to help his former players.
“I didn’t really know what to do…. I felt like I wasn’t doing enough for the players, and one of the things we did do—and a lot of the credit goes to Chris [Metzloff] of the Blue Devil Network and [Assistant Sports Director] Lindy Brown helping out—is that we ended up making a highlight tape of all four of the players," Church said. "I had a number of coaches call me and thank me. And again, this is not a big budget league so they don’t have a lot of people that can get out.”
The effort paid off for the three Blue Devils, and teams have also shown interest in giving Weinberg tryout opportunities at training camps in March, Church said.
With the three new draftees, Duke now boast four players in the NWSL as former Blue Devil Rebecca Moros plays for the Portland Thorns.
“It was really, really exciting—especially to see Kim get drafted because Kim’s a self-made player,” Church said. “Kim was not a highly recruited player. She missed her freshman year. She tore her ACL right before she came in. She battled through that. She’s played almost every position that we have here at Duke…. A lot of the coaches [think] we’ve never had a harder worker in the program.”
DeCesare and her two new Breakers teammates have been training in preparation for the draft and will continue to work with the Duke coaching staff and their fellow teammates. DeCesare, who graduated in December and Pathman, who is taking an abbreviated class schedule, will join the team in March, and Anasi will work in time around her final semester at Duke and join after graduation.
“I will be sad to leave Duke with all my teammates and friends… but this has always been a goal of mine and I came in knowing that this last semester I wanted to have the freedom to leave when I wanted to,” Pathman said.
With a 20-spot roster, the three Blue Devils face a difficult challenge to make it through training camp and earn a spot with the Breakers, but their success on draft day has already left a mark on the program they have helped build in the last four years.
“It’s exciting to us because it’s like we’re living some kind of legacy,” Anasi said. “And now we get to carry it on, and be an inspiration or set the bar a little bit higher for the players coming in, and that’s what they aspire to do is play pro, and they know it can be done because other players have done it.”