By Schuyler Easterling
In the dog days of summer, a team has been formed out of the blasting heat and humidity of the Clemson soccer practice fields. The young and the experienced, they have all come to Clemson from different backgrounds, united by a common dream, the dream of bringing the Tigers back to among the nation's elite.
Standing amongst the crowd, senior midfielder Vanessa Laxgang is ready for her time to shine and make her mark on the Clemson women's soccer program. Now in her fourth and final season, Laxgang is determined to make this year a successful finale to her career.
Laxgang came to Clemson from the Chicago, IL suburb of Arlington Heights in the fall of 2008. Trading the distinctive skyline of the "Windy City" for the Blue Ridge foothills of upstate South Carolina, Laxgang's move to the South has proved to be heaven-sent for both her and the squad.
The past three seasons, Laxgang has been a starting midfielder in 47 of Clemson's 55 games. For her career, she has accounted for 29 points, twice notching the second-most goals on the team.
As a freshman, she was Clemson's offensive MVP and received national all-rookie honors from TopDrawerSoccer.com. However, Laxgang is not satisfied with her contributions to date.
"I believe I have yet to leave my personal footprint on the program," said Laxgang. "That's been one of my biggest goals from the beginning.
"Coming to Clemson, I wanted to leave this program better than when I came. I have one last shot to continue to do the best I can and walk away feeling like I left something special here. I want to help build this program and look back after I've left with pride, knowing we all helped lay the foundation for something great here in a few years."
After a disappointing 6-10-2 record last season, 2013 ushers in new hope and opportunity for Laxgang and her teammates to take a leap forward. Determined to set the groundwork for future success, this summer has consisted of hard work and grit for the improved Clemson squad that defeated Alabama in an exhibition match on August 17.
"We want to keep getting better and better," remarked Laxgang. "Last year, we had our first ACC win in three seasons. It's not where we want to be, and we are focused on getting better. To be the best, you have to beat the best.
"Our biggest goal is to reach the ACC Tournament this year, and we know if we do that, we will have a great shot at the NCAA Tournament. The ACC is the toughest conference in the nation, and we want to take that next step and be at the top."
Taking the next step is exactly what Head Coach Eddie Radwanski and his team are aiming for this season. However, effective leadership will be crucial to propel Clemson back to where it wants to be. As a senior, Laxgang is ready to shoulder the responsibility of helping lead Clemson in 2013.
"I believe it's my job to relay to the younger girls how to manage time, improve on the field and in the classroom, and how to make the most of their time here," said Laxgang.
"I also want to make the freshmen feel as welcome as I felt when I first came to Clemson. As upperclassmen, it's our responsibility to lead the team and make it an easy transition for everyone. We are set on being the best, and it will take incredible focus and hard work to do that. It's all about changing the mindset. We're ready to do that."
This fall will not only conclude Laxgang's career as an athlete, but also end her career as a student at Clemson. She will graduate with a degree in psychology in December with hopes of returning to Chicago to earn her teaching certificate, dreaming of one day teaching in high school and coaching soccer.
Although leaving Clemson in less than four months, the impact she has had on
"Clemson has been a second home to me," said a smiling Laxgang. "The family feel of the entire university and athletic department has been so special to my life.
"You truly feel like you're a part of something bigger than just the Clemson soccer team...you feel connected to a big family. Clemson is a place that is truly all together as one.
"I will always be a Tiger!"