Vanessa DiBernardo and Sarah Griffith

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August Issue View more

Vanessa DiBernardo, 30, and Sarah Griffith, 23, both began their soccer careers in Naperville, first in youth programs and later as Warriors at Waubonsie Valley High School. DiBernardo has been a midfielder for the Red Stars since 2014 and is one of three players on the team to log 10,000 career playing minutes in the National Women’s Soccer League. Griffith, joined the team’s forward line this season after being drafted out of Purdue. The veteran and the rookie weighed in on their experiences.

Vanessa DiBernardo

Q: How did you get interested in soccer?
DiBernardo: My dad [Angelo DiBernardo] played professional soccer, and my older sister played when we were kids, so soccer was always in our family. I started kicking a ball right after I started walking and began travel soccer when I was 4 years old. There wasn’t always a stable women’s professional soccer league here in the United States when I was growing up, so being a professional athlete didn’t become a thought for me until the end of my college career [at Illinois].

Sarah Griffith

Griffith: I got interested in soccer because my older brother, Noah, played as well as my younger brother, Aaron. We would all play in our backyard for hours after school, which is really when I started falling in love with the game. I always knew I wanted to play as long as I could. Playing for the Red Stars has always been the dream.

Q: What’s been most challenging about going pro?
DiBernardo: Playing for the Red Stars and in the NWSL has been a journey. The league and the club have grown so much from when I was a rookie, and I am glad to be a part of that growth. We still have a long way to go, and that continuous fight for change and growth has been challenging, but it’s worth it to be able to grow the game for the next generation. 

Q: How did your Naperville roots prepare you? 
Griffith: Naperville has always been a hot spot for women’s soccer. There have been so many great players that have come out of the area, so having those players to look up to really gave me something to strive for. It is a very competitive area, especially for high school soccer. 

Q: Any advice for kids who dream of playing at the next level?
DiBernardo: Work hard and always be willing to learn and grow as a player, teammate, and person.

Griffith: Keep finding and holding onto the love and joy for the game—that will take you so far and help you overcome whatever obstacles come. Always go into practice with a mindset of how you can get just 1 percent better and how every drill is an opportunity to grow as a player. 

Photos courtesy of USA Today (Griffith action Shot and DiBernardo portrait) and Imagn (Griffith portrait)