Sarah Hagen is aiming to close out her college career at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with yet more goals (she’s scored plenty already) and a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Hagen – nicknamed “Apple” – is one of the most prolific strikers in the the NCAA and has had productive stints with the USWNT U-23’s this year.
Hagen talks to AWK about her hopes for the season, playing with the senior USWNT, and being a cancer survivor.
You have the chance to be a part of the first UWM class to play in four straight NCAA Tournaments. What do you credit for that success?
The credit first has to go to our coaching staff and their ability each year to get our team focused on what it takes to get that far and demanding that focus from us each day. Now that I’m a senior and have been in the NCAA tournament every season that I’ve been here, it’s been pretty much programmed into all of our heads that we as a team work towards and expect to make it to the NCAA tournament. That being said, we do not in any way settle or feel content with making it that far. For those who have been on the team as long as I have, have developed this urgency and fire to want to get past the first round. It’s something I think this group this year has the capability to do.
Have you taken more of a leadership role in the team now that you’re a senior?
This year being part of the senior class, there isn’t anyone else to look at for help or guidance to carry the team so either it comes out within or it doesn’t. Personally, I feel like our senior class and a couple of juniors have done well with demanding above par performance from everyone during training thus far. The reason why leadership is shown throughout six or seven people is because of our coach. His appreciation for the game has helped us develop an appreciation for not just the game, but for the opportunity given to us by him and the university. I think that appreciation goes a long ways towards our will to step up to lead as a unit, rather than individuals.
What attracted you to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee?
There were multiple factors that helped me make my decision on UWM, the biggest factor being the players on the team. I had played on the same club team with a handful of the girls a year above me so I felt comfortable around them. Another factor were the coaches. I had Mike, our head coach, as a coach for ODP so I already knew his style of coaching. Lastly, was the location of the campus. It’s just under two hours from my parents house in Appleton to Milwaukee, which is very important to me because they haven’t missed a single college game of mine. I really appreciate their commitment.
You’ve broken almost every school and league record after just three seasons. When you go into the college season, do you set out to establish new records?
First and foremost, the success of the team is what matters the most to me. That being said, scoring goals is part of my job as a forward and part of my role for the team. Individually, I want to keep improving as a player so I think it is reasonable to keep raising the bar for your own expectations. However, I couldn’t have or continue to have the success without the help of my teammates.
You met much success with the USWNT U-23’s this past spring and summer. How did those experiences compare to your previous stints in USWNT youth camps?
This past spring and summer with the U-23’s showed me some great experiences and what it takes to get to the next level. Playing with them and having success gave me some confidence going into this fall season, but I don’t think I would’ve had that success if I hadn’t had something to work towards. When I first came into the USWNT program I was very overwhelmed and knew I needed to work harder to keep getting invites to camps. I am very thankful towards the coaching staff for giving me the opportunity to play with the U-23’s because it has made me a better player.
Where does playing for the senior USWNT rank amongst your short-term goals?
Playing for the senior USWNT is definitely a goal of mine. I can only imagine how much work those players put in and the amount of dedication to the sport they have. I know that there are a lot of other talented players all over the nation and it would be a huge honor if I got the opportunity.
Would you like to pursue a career in soccer once you graduate?
Once I’m done playing soccer at UWM, I would love to pursue a soccer career. If the WPS is still around next year then hopefully I can play in that otherwise I would have to go overseas and play. I enjoy playing the game so much that I couldn’t imagine not playing it. I would be so grateful if I got the chance to continue playing.
What were your general impressions of the Women’s World Cup this summer?
I absolutely enjoyed every game in the summer’s Women’s World Cup. There were some very entertaining games and the way the U.S. was able to find a way to keep winning was very inspiring. Hopefully their success during the tournament drew in new viewers to help our sports popularity and also to support the WPS.
Your story is pretty remarkable, as you were first diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 15 and are now cancer free. Can you talk a bit about that experience and how it shaped who you are as a person today?
I was diagnosed with a cancer called Dysgerminoma, which is a germ-cell tumor, in January of my freshmen year of high school when I was 15 years old. My first surgery was an exploratory surgery, which they found out that the tumor was connected to a big blood vessel so they didn’t want to risk me bleeding out. Also, the size of the tumor was an issue because they didn’t know what it was all attached to. After the biopsy came back, I went through three rounds of chemotherapy for treatment. The tumor started off at about the size of size 4 soccer ball and by May it had shrunk to the size of a baseball. During my second round of chemo I had an allergic reaction to one of the drugs and went into anaphylactic shock. That was probably one of the scariest things I have ever gone through. But by May 6, 2005 I had my final surgery to remove the tumor and I was cancer free.
The entire process of having cancer and overcoming it has taught me many things. It has helped me keep a positive outlook on life and to never take things for granted. Staying positive helped me push through the tough times.
It has also has shown me how important family and friends are. Without the support of my friends and family I don’t think I would have stayed as positive as I did throughout the process. Going through the whole experience showed me how many people genuinely care about me and how much I appreciate those relationships.
Lastly, what’s your ultimate goal heading into this season?
The thing that I want to accomplish the most this season is to make it to the second round of the NCAA tournament. The past three seasons we have lost in the first game of the tournament and I feel this year we have the talent and determination led by our senior class to do it.
Thanks to Sarah and Kevin.