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Hofstra's DeRosa learns to balance soccer with motherhood

11/9/2007

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- Anyone can go out and buy a souvenir copy of a newspaper to commemorate a child's first birthday, but few such keepsakes would include a box score in the sports section with the mother's name.

Even fewer would immortalize mom scoring a pair of goals.

In what has to go down as one of the most unique birthday presents on record, that's exactly what Hofstra University senior Brooke DeRosa did on Sep. 9 in a game against Wyoming, one year to the day after she gave birth to her daughter Ciara.

When DeRosa left Syracuse and a lifelong attachment to soccer almost a year and a half ago in order to return home to Ronkonkoma, Long Island to chart a new beginning in the months before the birth of her daughter, playing out her final season of college eligibility, let alone scoring more goals in one game than she scored in her first three seasons combined, was the farthest thing from her mind.

But it turned out that DeRosa, blessed since her earliest days on the soccer field with the speed, balance and skills of a goal scorer, was too much of a born finisher to give up her last shot at goal.

"Finishing is probably the toughest job to do on the soccer field," Hofstra coach Simon Riddiough said. "Having the maturity and confidence in that split-second of a situation I think helps her. I think she's a more polished forward because of those extra couple of years of maturity which she's experienced."

So two seasons and one pregnancy removed from her last full college campaign, the 22-year-old soccer mom is challenging Hofstra's single-season scoring record and leading the attack for a team that deserves to hear its name called when the bracket for this year's NCAA Tournament is released Monday, regardless of what happens in this weekend's Colonial Athletic Association conference tournament.

And as curious as it sounds, the story begins with a sprained MCL.

Just two games into her fourth and presumably final season at Syracuse in 2005, DeRosa found herself sidelined for an extended period by that sprained knee ligament. By the time she was healthy enough to contemplate a return, the team's season was in the midst of a tailspin that culminated in a 4-12-4 record. Instead of returning for a few meaningless games at less than full strength, and knowing a change in majors from nutrition to ceramics meant she had another year of classes ahead of her, she opted to take the safe route with a medical redshirt that preserved her final season of eligibility.

Even after a career at Syracuse in which she rarely had an opportunity to play her natural position of striker and felt the mental toll of the team's cumulative 24-40-10 record, she was excited about coming back and contributing as a fifth-year senior.

Those plans changed in an instant the following January when DeRosa discovered she was pregnant. Although she said her own torrent of emotions, running the expected gamut from sad to happy to scared, settled into acceptance within a few days, it took her weeks to work up the courage to tell her family and her coach at Syracuse, Pat Farmer. But on all fronts she found little but support.

"Their reactions were a lot different than I thought they would be -- they were a lot better than I thought they would be," DeRosa said. "I thought I was going to get yelled at … but everyone's reactions went really well and everyone turned out to be really supportive. … My mom loves kids. She has seven, so she just loved the idea of a grandchild -- she has two now."

With Farmer's support, DeRosa didn't immediately separate herself from either school or soccer at Syracuse. She continued with her classes and practiced with the team throughout the spring semester and hadn't closed the door on returning at some point down the road when she finally went home to Long Island in early summer. But once back in Ronkonkoma, only two months away from her due date, the reality of the situation and the support available from her family convinced her otherwise.

"I just thought that was the best thing for Ciara, if I was to stay close to home," DeRosa said.

It was at home that fall, while attending a high school game in nearby Massapequa, that DeRosa ran into Riddiough, on hand to scout a couple of potential Hofstra recruits. Although a native of England who still speaks with a thick Yorkshire accent after 17 years in New York, Riddiough knew DeRosa well, having played one season with one of her older brothers at Hofstra more than a decade ago and following her development through the renowned club soccer world on Long Island. He had even tried unsuccessfully to recruit her before she made her initial commitment to Syracuse.

"They've all pretty much stayed local except for Brooke, which annoyed me a little," Riddiough joked about Brooke's other soccer-playing siblings. "That was my selling point."

But Riddiough also had family connections of another sort by the time he and DeRosa talked in Massapequa. His wife Heather having given birth to the couple's first child, son Kane, at about the same time DeRosa gave birth to Ciara.

Both recalled the conversation that night only semi-seriously touching on Brooke's future playing career. Riddiough having thought she had exhausted her eligibility, but once she got the soccer itch again this past January and obtained her release from Syracuse, the conversation resumed in a much more substantive way. And aside from the first priority of staying close to home and the added bonus of Hofstra being a competitive Division I program, Riddiough had a selling point that truly mattered this time around.

"It's great, because he's really understanding," DeRosa said. "He knows what it's like to be a first-time parent. And at the same time, both our babies are at the same age, so we kind of compare stories. … It was good, it was nice. It was comfortable for me; it made things easier coming back."

It's an undeniably unique relationship between a coach building a program and a player who will spend just one season in a Hofstra uniform and one that seems built more on mutual respect than authority. Riddiough bestowed the obvious moniker "Soccer Mom" on her right from the beginning, and not surprisingly for two competitive souls, coach and player have engaged in season-long banter over whose baby does what first.

"I didn't know anybody at Hofstra," DeRosa said. "Coming in, I didn't know any of the girls; I had never really played with any of them. So Simon was kind of my comfort zone, because I knew him and that was one link I had, so I was able to be a little bit more comfortable."

Scoring 11 goals in 18 games for a team that scored just 19 goals all of last season will generate a lot of instant chemistry, but DeRosa's unusual arrival didn't seem to bother her new teammates. Defender Sue Weber, a senior who Riddiough calls the best player in the program's history, transferred to Hofstra after one season at Georgia, giving her perhaps the best perspective on how DeRosa was able to fit in right from the outset.

"I thought she was really outgoing," Weber said. "I thought that on the field, she kind of took a -- not a leader role, but she stood out, didn't shy away, just a more mature way. And obviously she made her mark pretty early on and I think she's helped us ever since. I think she's a great player."

It also didn't hurt that DeRosa had Ciara running interference for her with her mom's new teammates. As Riddiough put it, "When you have a baby around, especially female student-athletes, they just get a real kick out of having something cute walking around."

Of course, when the rest of the team finished playing with Ciara and went back to their dorms, DeRosa went home and shifted into mom mode.

"It's still new to me," DeRosa said. "Some days, it slips my mind for a few seconds of the day. … I'm always thinking about her, but sometimes it just doesn't feel like she's mine. It's unreal a little sometimes. But it's really fun. I'm actually happy that it's happening at a young age than if it were to happen later."

Even if she doesn't realize it quite yet, DeRosa sounds like she's making the transition to motherhood just fine. Time and again her answers about everything from her plans for graduate school to regaining her fitness eventually wandered back to how it relates to Ciara. And for as effusive as he sounded talking about her speed, balance and maturity with the ball at her feet as one of his soccer players, Riddiough reserved his highest praise for DeRosa's performance as a fellow parent.

"It's tough enough in my situation with my wife and full-time positions and stuff like that to get on top of things," Riddiough said. "So I know Brooke's time is stretched thin. I know it's very difficult for her, but to her commendation, she's been here every day, she's not missed anything, she's not been late to anything. She's been really professional in the way she's doing things, which I truly admire, because I wouldn't be able to do it with my son."

And when Ciara is old enough to understand, perhaps her mom will still have the box scores to prove how an old love helped craft the perfect birthday gift for her new love.

Graham Hays is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's soccer coverage. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com.