Graceland University's soccer goalie, Stefany Castano Cardozo, is realizing her Olympic dream this week as a member of the Colombian national women's soccer team.
Castano Cardoza and the Colombian team are competing in the country's first-ever Olympic games this week, with their first match against the North Korean national team at Hampden Park in Glasgow, Scotland.
"My time at Graceland and with the soccer program is a huge part of why I've been blessed with this opportunity," Castano Cardoza said.
"Being 18 is very young to have achieved this level in soccer. If it wasn't for my training at Graceland with my coaches this wouldn't be happening. Coach Fred Wagenaar and Coach Josh care both about my success as a player and as a person. It's been amazing."
Castano Cardoza has been a member of the full national team in Colombia since she was 16 and has known the opportunity to play in the Olympics, if her country was to qualify, was always a possibility. The Colombians would do just that by reaching the finals of the 2010 South American Women's Soccer Championships in Bogota, Colombia earning them one of 12 spots in the XXX Olympiad in London.
Although her country would be participating in its first-ever Olympics, Castano Cardoza still had to earn a spot on the final roster in order to represent her country. "I wanted so badly to make the team," said Castano Cardozo from London. "I think it's every player's dream to play for their country in the Olympics."
After battling it out with several other goal keepers even into early June, the announcement came out on June 26th that Castano Cardoza was one of only two goalies to make the final roster.
Since being named to the Olympic roster, Castano Cardoza and Sandra Sepúlveda have shared the role as starting goalie. "Finding out I had made the final roster was so gratifying," Castano Cardoza said. "To beat the incredibly qualified players to earn a spot was awesome. Knowing the level of talent I'll be competing against in London is truly a dream come true."
Due to the length of the schedule, the soccer competition actually begins two days before the Olympic Games opening ceremony with the first group matches Wednesday, July 25th.
The competition will begin with a group stage. The teams will be divided into groups of four, and the best eight teams will qualify for the quarterfinals. From there, the competitions are a single-elimination format: The two winning semifinalists will play for the gold medal at Wembley Stadium in London with the two losing semifinalists facing off for the bronze. Colombia's group also includes the USA, North Korea and France.
Long before arriving back in Colombia this summer for the national teams' mini-camp, Castano Cardoza spent the last two seasons in Lamoni, Iowa, at Graceland, perfecting her craft as a member of the nationally ranked Yellowjacket women's soccer team under head coach, Fred Wagenaar.Wagenaar has seen the All-American mature from the young 16-year-old who arrived on campus in 2010, to the Olympian level she has achieved today.
"I think it's pretty amazing for anyone to be able to experience the thrill of being on the world soccer stage, but especially for someone as young as Stefany," said Wagenaar.
Coach Wagenaar has marveled at her focus whether it be training in the weight room, or the instant she sets foot on the pitch. "She has an incredible work ethic, and frankly it takes that kind of dedication to get to the level at which she is playing. She is literally always first to practice and last to leave. She doesn't even sit for a moment to socialize but immediately goes out onto the field to practice whatever it is she feels the need to work on," continued Wagenaar. "Stefany usually has 20 to 30 minutes of practice in by the time it is scheduled to start."
Castano Cardoza puts just as much of the credit back on the GU coaching staff for having her so well prepared to play. The skills and technical work that Coach Wagenaar and his son, goal keeper coach Josh Wagenaar, have her perfecting are now paying huge dividends.
And you can bet both Wagenaars will be cheering for Columbia in this Olympic Games.
NAIA-member Graceland University is a private, liberal arts institution located in Lamoni, Iowa.