Taking the Long Road
Nov. 26, 2009
By Larry Watts
Cassie Dickerson laughs at the idea.
"At the rate the younger girls on this team are scheduled to graduate, I might be a doctor before my eligibility runs out," the Kalamazoo, Mich. native says.
Dickerson, a center back on the Ohio State women's soccer squad, is a senior academically and just completed her junior season for eligibility purposes for the Buckeyes. But because this is only her first full season playing for the Buckeyes, due to three ACL surgeries, chances are she will probably gain a sixth year of eligibility in 2011.
And that would fit in perfectly with her plans to attend veterinary school at Ohio State.
"I'm in no rush; I could receive my undergraduate degree in the spring or push it off to the fall," she says. "The way I see it, my school will go further than my soccer. I won't run out of classes to take, for sure.
"I guess I'll just have to be the wise old lady on the team. The plan is to go for the sixth year, but I don't get to apply for it until after next fall. I think I have a good chance because (former Ohio State standout and current soccer commentator) Lisa Grubb was able to get a sixth year when she played."
Dickerson's ACL woes began while playing for her club team, six weeks before reporting to Ohio State for her freshman year.
"We were scrimmaging our younger team the day before the regional championship," she says. "It was non-contact, but my right knee just went out when I changed directions."
Then right before the opening match of her second season, her left ACL was torn in another non-contact incident.
"I decided to even myself out because I was out of balance," she says with a laugh.
She finally took the field for the Buckeyes in 2008. But her stay only lasted until 3:55 into the third game, when a Charlotte player tackled her from the right side after she had already cleared the ball.
"I plan to stay out of balance now," she says. "But I do have that orthopedic surgeon back in Kalamazoo on my speed dial. He's done all my ACL surgeries and even did one for my brother when he was playing baseball at Western Michigan."
So far the 5-foot-6 center back was been one of the key pieces as the Buckeyes drove into a berth in the NCAA Tournament. Oddly enough, the Buckeye defense led the Big Ten and is ranked among the nation's top 10 in goals allowed while keeper Lauren Robertson was last in the conference in saves.
"The fact that Lauren doesn't make many saves per game is something our defense takes a lot of pride in," Dickerson says. "We love Taz (Robertson's nickname). She's been the Big Ten defensive player of the week something like six times and she complains when we don't let her do anything. But our defense prides itself on a no-shot mentality and she knows if something does get through, it's going to be a pretty good shot. And that's when she usually comes up big."
Dickerson didn't let her three years on the sidelines go to waste. She often had a seat right next to head coach Lori Walker.
"I was frustrated, but I kept an open mind about the situation and made the most out of it," she says. "I was able to hear coach Walker's thought process during the games and learned a lot by watching her. It was especially hard to be a captain last year and know I couldn't contribute on the field.
"That gave me an advantage when I finally got back on the field. I actually know what she (Walker) is thinking before she tells me. All she has to do is yell my name and I respond by saying, 'I know, I know.' I feel like I am a coach on the field now."
Growing up in Kalamazoo, her mother, a former ballerina at Western Michigan, had thoughts of her daughter following in her footsteps. She enrolled Cassie in a ballerina class she was teaching, but that didn't last long.
"I was also taking Tae Kwon Do at the time and my mother got tired of me karate chopping and kicking the other girls in the class," she says. "She had to kick me out of her own class, which was kind of embarrassing. Maybe if I had done a pirouette, I could have avoided that third ACL injury."
According to Dickerson, who holds a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, her experience in the martial arts has had its rewards while playing both soccer and basketball.
"It's given me a lot of discipline and respect for the environment I'm in," she says. "I think it's made me a fighter. It's funny when we sit around in film sessions because I feel like letting out one of those Tae Kwon Do noises when I make a good kick."
When it came time to make a college decision, one thing was certain, there was no way Cassie was headed to Ann Arbor. Her father, Van, grew up in Elyria, Ohio before playing football at Western Michigan and had groomed his family to be Buckeye fans.
"I never looked at Michigan," Dickerson says. "My dad (now at athletic director at Kalamazoo Central High) said he would never pay a cent to Michigan. Besides, the Michigan coach at the time loved her California girls."
The disdain for Michigan in the Dickerson household even goes down to the dog, a Rottweiler named Rico.
"He sits to 'Buckeye,' lays down to 'touchdown' and plays dead when we say 'Wolverine,"' Dickerson laughs. "Why not be different? As long as we (Ohio State) are better, I'm good."
But Michigan State was heavily in the picture for Dickerson's autograph. Several of her club teammates were headed to East Lansing and strongly encouraged her to follow.
"I loved them and their coaching staff," she says. "One of the assistants was my state ODP coach. It was very hard to break away from the people I had been playing with, but we still remain close friends.
"However, I wanted to get away from home, far enough to be away but not too far so my parents couldn't se me play. Five hours is perfect. My mother has been to every one of my games, even when I was injured, and my father makes it here on Sundays."
Dickerson says she embraces the opportunity to play against friends at the collegiate level, especially Michigan State.
"It's always a lot of fun and they know I'm not afraid of them," she says. "I'll talk to them all the time and keep egging them on. I keep encouraging them to show me something different because I know all their tricks. I want them to show me something new."
Dickerson says her trash-talking, which is never derogatory, is a carryover from her days on the basketball court.
"I'll hear a song on the radio and I just start singing it to the forwards," she says. "Anything I can do to throw them off their game and make them think about me is good. I can sing, talk and keep my focus at the same time. But if I can get them off focus, then I'm doing my job."