Becky Sauerbrunn (second from right) battles for a ball in a match against Canada. Brad Smith

Becky Sauerbrunn (Col ’08) will remember her first international soccer match for all the right reasons—and one she’d just as soon forget.

She and a Canadian player went up for a ball at the same time, and Sauerbrunn came down with a broken nose.

“She was trying to flick the ball backward toward my goal and I was trying to hit the ball forward, and she just headed my face,” recalls Sauerbrunn. “It’s OK now. Luckily, it was a clean break.”

Such are the travails of playing the world’s best-loved sport at the elite level, where athletes are “faster, dirtier, more soccer-savvy and know how to cheat to get what they need to have happen,” she says.

Count on Sauerbrunn to be a fast learner in picking up all the tricks of the trade—sans cheating, of course. In addition to anchoring the center of UVA’s defense, she made her mark as a scholar. In 2007, the National Soccer Coaches Association of America named her its Scholar Athlete of the Year. She also was ACC Defensive Player of the Year that season, and this past spring UVA’s IMP Society honored her as top female student-athlete of the 2007-08 academic year.

Her work ethic landed her a spot on the U.S. Women’s National Team, where she has competed with the under-23 squad in tournaments around the globe. This summer she also took the turf for the Washington Freedom, defending champions of the W-League.

Sauerbrunn began playing soccer at age 5 on a community league team in her hometown of St. Louis. Soon she was playing on a select team—and with boys for the first time.

“That’s when I realized I really, really liked soccer because I was having so much fun and the team was really good,” she says. “Because I was playing with boys, I was always being pushed on. So I think that’s when I realized that I wanted to make this something I really went after.”

Her collegiate eligibility has expired, but Sauerbrunn is back at UVA this fall to complete her undergraduate English education degree in the Curry School. Though she’s contemplating graduate school at some point, soccer has top priority now.

“I want to play for as long as possible because I know I can go back to school,” Sauerbrunn says. “I might not always be able to go back to soccer.”