Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Spending her first summer back in New Jersey since she’d enrolled at the University of North Carolina, while Amber Brooks was working with renowned trainer James Galanis, she was also looking to get some proper minutes of action to prepare for her senior season with the Tar Heels.
So when Yael Averbuch got in contact with her about playing for the W-League’s New Jersey Wildcats, Brooks jumped at the opportunity.
“My good friend Yael Averbuch told me she was playing for the Wildcats, and that Jim Gabarra was the coach,” Brooks said by phone this week. “Obviously I’d heard great things about Jim through his work in the WPS and WUSA, so I was excited to have a quality coach and once Yael told me she was playing, I’d always wanted to play alongside her, so she pretty much sealed me on the deal.”
Brooks had known Averbuch since she was 14, and had played alongside her younger sister while playing club soccer. The two had previously trained alongside one another, and competed in pick-up games, but for the two of them to be on the same field for official matches was a very new and interesting experience for the former U.S. U20 international.
“It was kind of weird,” Brooks said. “We actually looked at one another and said, ‘wow, is this like our first official game that we’re playing with each other?’ Yael’s such a humble person, she was like, ‘yeah, I’m excited to be playing with you too, Amber,’ but it was really just a great time. She always reminds me how much fun soccer is, I’m the kind of person that can get caught up in the competitiveness of it all, and it’s nice to play with her because she’s always like, ‘hey, Amber, it’s OK, just have fun’. It was awesome.”
While playing with one of her role models, with Averbuch having played a major role in Brooks’ recruitment to UNC while she was a standout there, Brooks also took the opportunity to learn from Gabarra, who had previously coached in both WUSA and WPS. Given more freedom to push forward, while also maintaining her defensive responsibilities, Brooks got the chance to sharpen her attacking instincts.
“He was very eager about me attacking and making penetrating runs through the midfield,” Brooks said. “I appreciated the fact that he let me explore the attacking side of the game.”
Brooks has taken those lessons and applied them this fall in Chapel Hill. Having recorded two goals and an assist while playing both in defense and midfield for the Tar Heels so far, she sits second on the team with 23 shots on goal. With a rotating lineup that has seen the team’s U20 National Team members only just return after their success in Japan, and is now absent its leading scorer Summer Green as she plays for the U.S. U17s in the FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup, Brooks’ leadership will be a key as UNC tries to take its first win in the ACC on Thursday night against Virginia Tech.
Going against the No. 9 Hokies starts a four-game stretch at home for the Tar Heels, with No. 1 Florida State also visiting the following Thursday. With only half the season remaining, Brooks believes the upcoming stretch of contests will be crucial for the Tar Heels’ season as a whole.
“It’s still kind of early in the ACC, but by the end of the stretch we’ll only have three or four ACC games left, so this is a kind of crucial point,” Brooks said. “I know all of us are really excited to be at home and playing on home turf, it’s just so much easier in front of your home fans and being acclimated to the field, and with school and classes we don’t have to miss that, so we’re all very excited about playing at home.”
As competitive as the ACC has become in recent seasons, with nine teams earning berths to the NCAA Tournament a season ago and three reaching the College Cup, Brooks knows every game will be a big test for her side, in part because of the historic reputation UNC has built.
“I think we’ve got to be prepared for the intensity every team brings when they play us,” Brooks said. “We’re kind of the team that’s circled on their calendar, every wants to beat the Tar Heels, so just accepting the physical battle and the intense battle that it’s going to be, and not only matching it but bringing more intensity than they are.”