When Rebecca Quinn was a child, her parents told her that she should try different sports until she found one she loved the most. Her father, Bill, played rugby at Western Ontario, and her mother, Linda, played basketball at the University of Waterloo.
But Quinn chose soccer. Little did she know that that decision would lead her to a series of memories with the Canadian national team, including earning a bronze medal at the Pan American games in 2015, notching a hat trick in an Olympic qualifier against Guatemala Feb. 16 and defeating Brazil 2-1 in the final game of the Algarve Cup last month. Quinn played only a few seconds at the end of the tournament final and was on the same pitch with one of her childhood idols—Brazil’s five-time Ballon d’Or winner, Marta Vieira da Silva.
“It’s always a great experience to participate in competitions with players that I’ve looked up to for all my time growing up. I did the walkout and [thought], ‘Oh my gosh, I’m playing against Marta.’ But after that, it’s game on,” Quinn said. “I loved watching them as I grew up and being on the same pitch with them is an honor but at the same time, I have a job to do and I have to take them like any other player.”
But success always comes with sacrifices and Quinn’s case is no exception. The junior is taking this semester off to train with the Canadian national team to prepare for the upcoming Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Quinn did the same thing last spring to train for the World Cup but was left off the roster, meaning the Toronto native will need an extra year to finish her college degree in biology.
Skipping two semesters of classes might seem extreme, but she seems to have found a perfect balance between the international spotlight on the soccer pitch and her workload in Durham.
“I think it’s great taking a semester off,” Quinn said. “My freshman year was difficult. I was in the international team a lot in the spring and I missed almost a month of school, which is crazy. So it’s good to have these concentrated periods where you can focus solely with the national team. And then in the fall, Duke was my main priority for all of it. It’s nice to be able to put your attention to only one thing.”
An 18-year old Quinn debuted with her national team March 7, 2014, when Canada took down Italy 3-1 in the Cyprus Cup, and she has made 19 appearances wearing her country's jersey since then. The midfielder started all five contests at the 2015 Pan American games and scored her first international goal in the first half of a 10-0 rout against Guatemala. In a seven-minute span early in the closing period, she added two more goals with a long-range shot and a header from inside the box.
In March at the Algarve Cup, the Blue Devil center back started as a midfielder in a 1-0 loss against Denmark and totaled 49 minutes in three other contests.
Quinn has also shared the locker room with another of her soccer idols—attacker Christine Sinclair, the top scorer in the history of the Canadian women’s national team and second-best female international striker with 161 career goals.
“It’s unreal,” Quinn said. “You have to take a couple of breaths when you’re first playing besides Christine Sinclair, but I think we’re at a point of our relationship where we are quite comfortable with each other. It’s fun.”
Duke head coach Robbie Church praised Quinn’s role in the Blue Devil offense and said that her progress throughout last season made her not only one of the best players in the ACC but also in the NCAA.
“There’s not so many people in women’s soccer that can hit the ball like Rebecca can,” Church said. “She can change the point of attack with one ball and she can pass midfield and drive the ball. She can open up the field and stretch defenses. A lot of times, [opponents] like to press us, so she can play balls in from behind. And she makes good decisions with the ball. That’s such an unbelievable weapon to have a player that can do that.”
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The 5-foot-9 defender scored three goals for Duke last fall, with one of them coming in a 2-1 victory against second-seeded Florida in the NCAA tournament Sweet 16. Despite missing one game at the beginning of the season due to an ankle injury and two conference contests with a concussion, Quinn had a crucial role in the Blue Devil backline and played the third-most minutes of the Duke defenders, totaling 1,974 in 22 games.
“Rebecca is one of the most creative players I’ve played with and also someone who understands the game better than anyone else,” sophomore defender Schuyler Debree said. “Having her on the field is massive because it’s a huge confidence-booster for the whole team. Everybody knows that she’s very consistent and she’ll make those big plays when we need her to. And she’s also just fun to watch. She’s the only center back in the country that can pull Maradonas [dribbling from one end of the pitch to the other] on a team and get away with that.”
Quinn—who made the All-ACC Academic Team in the fall—will have some work to do to catch up when she returns to Durham, but has found a way to stay on top of both studies and soccer, fitting in well with Church's program philosophy. Duke reached the College Cup final in 2011 and 2015 and each time, a Blue Devil was recognized for posting the highest grade-point average of any player on the four teams to reach the Final Four. In a program that believes that excellent academic performance is as important as finding the back of the net, creating that balance is not an option but rather a requirement for Quinn and her teammates.
“Duke is a phenomenal school, but it’s not for everybody,” Church said. “You have to want to excel both academically and athletically. If soccer is your main thing, and you do academics because you have to do it to play soccer, Duke is probably not the right place for you. We’ve got to make sure that [the players’] academic goals means the same thing as their athletic goals and fortunately in women’s soccer, a lot of the young ladies are academically oriented too.”