Women's Soccer Goalkeeper Making the Most of an Opportunity
Natasha Dirda talks with hokiesports.com
September 30, 2002

BLACKSBURG, Va. - Last December in the midst of her freshman year at Virginia Tech, Natasha Dirda received a phone call from Sam Okpodu, who at the time was the head coach of the Virginia Tech women's soccer team. Although she did not expect it, the call would give her the opportunity to fulfill one of her life-long dreams: to play collegiate soccer.

Although no opportunities to play collegiate soccer evolved out of high school, the McKees Rocks, Pa. native, opted to attend Virginia Tech in order to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering.

With only one goalkeeper on the roster at the end of the 2001 season, the coaching staff was in search of a backup keeper and Dirda was the solution. With a preseason injury to junior Katie Hancock, the door was left wide open for Dirda to earn the starting position and she did just that.

So far this season Dirda has started seven matches and has made 40 saves in more than 630 minutes. This past weekend versus Pittsburgh the sophomore goalkeeper earned her first career shutout and first victory as a collegian as the Hokies blanked Pittsburgh, 2-0.

Recently, hokiesports.com talked with Natasha Dirda to get some insight on the 2002 season and her feelings on fulfilling her childhood dream of playing collegiate soccer.

Q: Why did you decide to come to Virginia Tech?
My decision to come to Tech was based on academics. I was looking into Pittsburgh, Johns Hopkins, Allegheny and some other schools in Pennsylvania. I came here, though, and just fell in love with it. I knew that I wasn't going to play in the fall. That was horrible but I would always go out and watch the team play. I knew in the back of my mind that I could decide to try out later and there was always the club team. I was coming here regardless of the soccer situation though.

Q: What made you decide to try out for the team last spring? Was that something that you had planned on doing before you came to Tech?
I always wanted to play soccer in college, but I am an engineering major so that made it difficult. They already had four goalkeepers when I first came in (as a freshman). I had talked with (former head coach) Sam (Okpodu) a few times my senior year and high school. He said that they would love to have me, but they already had four goalkeepers and maybe something would work out later. Then I got a call from Sam in December. He explained that they only had one goalkeeper and he asked if I still wanted to come out (for the team). There was nothing to lose. If I came out and didn't make it or if I didn't have time to play, it was only the spring season. If it came down to it, I could tell coach, 'This isn't for me,' but I loved it.

Q: Since you just joined the team last spring, did you think that you would get this much playing time this year? Did that come as a surprise?
I didn't know what to expect. I have been playing soccer since I was four or five years old, but this level of play is so much different. I didn't know what to expect. Katie (Hancock) is a great goalkeeper with two years of experience and she had started just about every game her freshman and sophomore years. I thought that my role would be to push her and maybe get some playing time, but probably not. I am very pleased with the current situation though. I have worked really hard and Katie's injury in the preseason helped me in a way to get playing time and be able to prove myself. I was surprised.

Q: Your first career start was against Notre Dame, one of the nation's elite women's soccer programs. Were you nervous at all entering that game?
It was my first trip with the team. It was really awkward because Katie wasn't even there. I was more excited than nervous. My parents made the trip out to Notre Dame and Tech has never played a program at the elite level Notre Dame is. When we went out there, and I don't know why, but I was not nervous at all. I knew that it was time to play. That was my time to prove myself. I was going to prove myself against them or not. That was my game to decide if I was good enough for this level or not.

Q: Since you joined the team in the spring it is somewhat of an awkward situation because everyone already knew each other and had played together in the fall. What was the transition like for you from becoming the newcomer to a member of the team?
In the spring, it was rough. I would be the same way though and I don't blame any of them. I thank them because that is what pushed me. I felt like I could play for this team. Them giving me a hard time was just going to help me play better. It's totally different now. In the spring I was worried that nobody liked me, it was horrible. There were five or six of us that were trying to walk on, and I was the only one that made it. Obviously, they were going to give me a hard time. It is totally different this year, thank god. I love them all now.

Q: With the exception of a few games this year, pretty much every game has been close. How would you describe the team's attitude this season after getting out to a slow start?
"he team as a whole is very positive this season. We are having a lot of fun, even though we are not winning. Which is a good thing in a way, but at the same time, after a loss like JMU, 2-1 in overtime, I was like, ' We need to get serious about this. I know everyone is having fun, but we should be pulling off some of these games and winning.' After losing the first two games (to Notre Dame) 5-0 and (to William & Mary) 4-0 there is a big difference defensively because we stepped it up. I think we needed a game like Liberty where Kjersti (Trout) scored four goals and Sarah (Kammerer) added one. To score five goals is obviously a step in the right direction. Offensively if we start producing we will be fine. We have some players on our team that I am just amazed at. These girls are just coming in from high school, stepped up at this level against some top-ranked teams and played some amazing soccer.

Q: Defensively the team has been playing a lot better lately ever since Kathy Holdsworth switched back to defense. What has that been like having her play in front of you?
I love having Kathy (Holdsworth) on defense. She is so smart and so calm. She knows everything about the game. I love watching her. The other team will have a breakaway and she will remain calm and make a play. Most defenders would get scared, jab, and get beat, but not her. We need her offensively to set other people up and score on free kicks. Having her in the back has definitely solidified the defense. I am good friends with her and I know that she loves playing midfield and loves to score. But she is the backbone of the team. She would do anything to help the team, even if it means playing sweeper.

Q: At the midpoint of the season, what is your overall reaction to being a part of the Virginia Tech women's soccer team?
This has been my dream all my life. I have always wanted to play soccer in college and become a doctor. Ever since I was a little girl those are the two things that I have wanted to do. Now that one of them has come true it is like a dream. I love it. I don't think it could ever be too much. It's a game. I get to play every day and represent Virginia Tech. That is absolutely amazing. I love it.