The secret behind choosing Nevada

Dana Moreno measures the ball before she runs up to it, to put it back into play in order to give her teammates a chance to score. Then she fires away and the ball travels faster than a torpedo.

California forward Grace Leer was on a breakaway, but her final obstacle awaited — Nevada’s senior goalkeeper Dana Moreno. Leer faked and Moreno countered by not taking the bait, dropping to her knees. Leer fired away and Moreno made a diving save.

Moreno’s fundamentals have caught the interest of the Mexican National Team. Against Texas Christian University in a 1-0 Nevada victory, a Mexican scout observed Moreno fight for loose balls, while communicating expressively with her teammates. After the game, he introduced himself to Moreno and the coaching staff and invited Moreno for a tryout in November to be part of “El Tri.”

“I am so excited because this has literally been my dream to play for Mexico,” Moreno said. “All of my hard work is paying off and maybe I will be playing in the World Cup in two years.”

Moreno and many other women face a dilemma playing professional soccer. The Women’s Professional Soccer league suspended its 2012 season, then shut down entirely in May. It left many USA National Team players, including Abby Wambach and captain Christine Rampone, without a club, according to Yahoo Sports.

Now, most of the league’s former players face a tough choice: move to Europe to play elite soccer for as little as $20,000 a season or settle for an even lower-paying gig on a minor or semi-pro team closer to home. Having a spot on the U.S. National Team can earn them a salary of up to $60,000, according to ESPN The Magazine.

But for Moreno, the uncertainty doesn’t matter because her passion for soccer is enormous.

“For me it’s the lifestyle and passion of the game that I developed as a child and I used it to escape family and social life issues and focused on it solely,” Moreno said. “From then on, you just stick with it because it’s one of those things you can’t let go and it’s the most beautiful sport in the world, but it can take you places in life like job offers and stuff because it’s challenging.”

Early Beginnings

Since as long as Moreno can remember, she has had a passion to compete.

With a 30-minute break for recess on its way, the children smiled and eagerly looked at the clock awaiting their most exciting part of the day. The bell finally rang and the kids ran outside the classroom looking to have fun with their friends. Girls often played with barbies and boys played some kind of competitive game.

Young Moreno wearing pants instead of skirts as the other girls did, went straight to the kickball field to choose her team and compete. That was what she was looking forward to the entire day.

“This is where my competitive spirit really started and I always got to pick teams at recess and I was the best at kickball,” Moreno said. “This was before I started playing soccer but this is what also sparked my interest in soccer.”

She was born on August 6, 1991 in Chatsworth, Calif. Dana is the daughter of Edward and Carly Moreno and has a younger sister named Danielle Marie Moreno.

Moreno’s parents were divorced when she was a year old and her dad took custody, raising both daughters as a single parent. While he worked, Elsie Moreno, her grandmother, took care of her granddaughters, creating a mother-like presence for these two young girls.

Young Moreno and her sister chased each other when they smelled something delicious in the kitchen. As soon as they saw their nana smile and hold two cups of hot chocolate, they knew it was time to go to bed but eagerly jumped up and down waiting to relish the chocolate. While Moreno enjoyed her chocolate, she cherished her time alongside her grandma even more. They would cuddle and laugh, making many priceless moments.

“Everything I do in life—it is solely because of my nana,” Moreno said. “That is where my drive comes from.”

During this past summer, Moreno tattooed Elise’s name on her arm to represent that she is always by her side. It enraged her father because he thought women looked trashy with visible tattoos. He did not talk to her for an entire month but has come to terms with what it symbolizes. Moreno said it felt awful not communicating with her father for that extensive amount of time. It has taught her to appreciate all he has done for her.

Moreno began playing soccer at 7-years-old. Moreno began as a forward, but when she turned 9, she made the switch to goalkeeper, which was the correct choice according to her father because of her great ability to use her hands and fast reactions to block shots.

While growing up she always got praise from her coaches. Moreno said her father always gave her tough love because of the “machismo” attitude that comes along with being Mexican and soccer being a huge deal in Mexican culture.

One memory that stands out is when she messed up bad in a game and her father yelled at her during the game as a spectator. The disruption got him ejected from the stands. Now she understands why he was so hard on her. Soccer was her ticket to success and her dad saw it long before it happened.

“I was always tough on her because I wanted her to be the best and in order to be the best you have to play the best,” Edward said.

According to her father, his daughter has always had a competitive spirit and a gift for being a leader by example, which has translated into the success she has had in her career.

“She is one of the most athletic kids I have seen in her age. When she puts her mind to something she gets it done, which is why I am very proud of her and her number one fan,” Edward said.

Her nonexistent relationship with her mother has inspired her to strive for greatness. She sees failure as her biggest fear.

Choosing Nevada

Dana Moreno with her hands on her hips attentively listens to her head coach alongside her teammates. They are very focused because they want to grasp everything in order to become better goalkeepers.

Six other universities recruited Moreno— Santa Clara University, Long Beach State, Washington State, Washington, San Diego State and Notre Dame.

Her successful high school career made these programs want her. She started at goalkeeper on the 2006 Gothia Junior World Cup championship team in Sweden and the 2009 Cal South National Championship team with Chatsworth Senior High School in Chatsworth, Calif. Furthermore, she was a member of the Olympic Development Program state team from 2004-2007.

“ODP is really big in club soccer and usually that is what gets you to college and gets a lot of scouts to watch you play and get your name out there,” Moreno said.

The exposure she received in the ODP helped her become one of four goalkeepers in the nation to be invited to the 2007 U.S. National Team pool in Sunrise, Fla.

“It was a big deal for me because I always wanted to get to that level even though it was only the pool,” Moreno said. “It was cool. We got to play some friendlies and it was all around a good experience and as a goalkeeper you may have talent but what you really need is experience and that was just another thing I put in my goalkeeper résumé.”

Being Mexican-American allowed her to be a member of the Mexican U-20 National Team pool in 2009 after high school, which only elevated her résumé.

Moreno played for the Laguna Hills Eclipse White soccer club team during the offseason before her sophomore year at UNR, helping the team win the U-18 2010 Youth Soccer National Championship. In helping lead the Eclipse White to a shutout victory in the championship game against defending champion Eclipse Select from Illinois 1-0, Moreno was awarded the Golden Glove Award for best goalkeeper.

“Being part of Eclipse White and awarded such a prestigious award, while also being a member of the ODP made me think that I can do it, that I was meant to play soccer and that I was a natural born soccer player,” Moreno said.  “This being my senior year of college now and still knowing in my heart that I have the same love for the game as I did when I first started when I was little, just lets me know it’s natural for me and that I was born for it.”

Moreno’s last recruitment visit was Nevada when deciding what program she would commit to. Her visit to Nevada turned out to be a forced one by her father because Nevada insisted that Moreno was the missing link to their program.

When she got off the plane, she was introduced to Nevada’s goal-scoring leader Natalie Ratnavira. They instantly clicked, which allowed Moreno to view Nevada as a possible destination. As time went on, they would interact through phone and social networking. Then one day, Moreno decided to make her choice on the way to lunch at her high school. She walked to the soccer field, called Nevada and committed by phone.

“It was the first time I ever made a choice on my own and it turned out to be the right one,” Moreno said. “After school when I told my dad what I had done, he was very proud of me because I made the decision on my own. He jokes around saying Reno is in our last name, so it was meant to be.”

Before Ratnavira’s senior season, her family said they discovered she had a blocked lower right chamber in her heart, which ended her athletic career according to Moreno. Then, this past June, she suffered a brain hemorrhage and passed away at the age of 22.

Moreno decided to dedicate this season to Ratnavira by wearing No. 18 on her sleeve and shin guards underneath the socks every game.

“She was my best friend and we told each other everything and I had, and always will have, the utmost respect for her,” Moreno said. “She was one of the most unique and special people I’ve met and she is the main reason I came to UNR. As soon as I got off the plane for my visit and saw her big bright warm smile I felt comfortable instantly.”

Becoming a Leader 

Moreno has had an up-and-down career at Nevada — only making 19 starts in her first three seasons. This year she is the captain and leader and feels this role will make her thrive because she has always been a leader in high school and club soccer. Head coach Melissa Price has witnessed the evolution in Moreno’s career and believes her hard work will pay off this year.

“Every year Dana has increased her commitment to understanding what it means being a student athlete at this level, whether it’s her commitment to balancing the time demand for her fitness, or being consistent through the course of a training week in translating the information the coaches are giving her to make her a better goalkeeper,” Price said.  “There has been little bits of pieces along the way in her growth and I think last year we really started to see her mature as a player.”

Four-year starter Lauren Braman has noticed the difference in Moreno this year compared to her first three.

“I think she has stepped up as a vocal leader, and on the field she is much more assertive and demanding and she’s very precise as to what she expects and that has helped the team — especially me as a defender and that has helped me organize the back line,” Braman said.

Moreno has had a solid season thus far, which has translated to her leading Nevada to three more victories than what they had all of last year.

The star goalkeeper knew coming to Nevada would be a huge challenge for her, knowing the only successful season the Pack had in the Western Athletic Conference was in 2006 when they won the WAC title for the first time since the program’s inception in 2000. One title in 12 years is not very successful, but she accepted it because her mindset was to make Nevada a respectable program.

“I remember as a freshman I told them I wanted to be remembered as a legacy here,” Moreno said.

Moreno said she has no regrets in choosing Nevada because she is a person who lives in the moment.

“I just like to take every moment by the moment and I have always lived in the moment because that’s how soccer is, just like a goalkeeper. If you get scored on you can’t keep dwelling on it, you have to keep on playing and moving forward,” Moreno said.

Before the season started, Moreno said this is a “new era” for the Wolf Pack and expects to compete for the Mountain West title because the team has been unsuccessful her first three years and this is her last chance to have a positive memory of leaving a legacy.

“I’m not going to lie, my most memorable moment is in the making right now and I am hoping that my most memorable moment would be winning the Mountain West Conference,” Moreno said.

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Leo Beas can be reached on Twitter @beasleo
Leo Beas can be reached on Twitter @beasleo
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