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Soccer: Ragin' Cajuns Eight For Eight: Denice Emokpae
With eight home matches and eight seniors on the 2017 squad, RaginCajuns.com will be profiling each senior heading into home weekends. This is the final weekend, and since there's two matches this weekend two seniors will be profiled. The final profile for the 2017 season is senior Denice Emokpae.
LAFAYETTE – What makes college sports special, is the fact that the athletes on the field are doing more than just playing a sport. They're attending their respective University to gain an education and pursue a career off the field.
Some majors are less time consuming then others, but for Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns senior captain Denice Emokpae, more affectionately known as 'Dee Dee', she's taken the rough less travelled by pursing a nursing degree. That road was made slightly rougher by a torn ACL during the summer of 2016.
But Emokpae used her strong faith in God, and her determination to play the game she loved to stay the course and return to the pitch for her senior season without missing a beat.
"My relationship with God is the most important part of my life," said Emokpae. "The injury was frustrating because I had worked so hard going into that season, but going through the recovery process I knew that it happened for a reason, and that God had a plan for me.
"I just continued to pray about it and God gave me a sense of peace about it and I knew that I would overcome this and become better from the injury both on and off the field."
Emokpae comes from a strong Christian family that is also strong in its love for soccer. It was that dedication to the beautiful game that got Emokpae on the pitch in the first place, even though at the young age of five she wasn't entirely sold on the game.
"When my dad signed me up to play soccer for the first time, I didn't want to go and all I wanted to do was play with my brother outside," said Emokpae. "I ended up going and over time I fell in love with the game."
Hailing from Sugar Land, Texas, which is just outside Houston, Texas, Emokpae was awarded the chance to play with some big clubs in the surrounding regions. It was at these clubs that Emokpae gained her nickname, Dee Dee.
"I got to a new club when I was 13, and the club had a girl on their team with the name Denice," said Emokpae. "Since I showed up and she was already there I decided to help with the confusion and I came up with the name Dee Dee and since then it's just stuck with me. Everyone just started calling me Dee Dee and sometimes, even today, I introduce myself as Dee Dee."
Emokpae's desire to be a nurse came from her mother, "My mom's always been a nurse, and I always knew that I wanted to go into healthcare, and I like to spend time with people which is how I settled on being a nurse," said Emokpae.
That desire to pursue a difficult career, is what drove her to Louisiana and the chance to put on the Ragin' Cajuns red. The program here, one of the more respected programs in the region, drew Emokpae's attention and when she visited it didn't take her long to fall in love with the Cajun way of life.
She came to Louisiana and hit the ground running, in her freshman year, she scored four goals in only nine matches all coming from the bench. Her role as a super sub was perfect to get accustomed to the new level of play she was apart.
"There's a lot less pressure coming off the bench, because the starter has to set the tone for the game," said Emokpae. "Coming off the bench, during my freshman year, I came into the game with the attitude that I needed to challenge every single ball and if it doesn't work out at least you gave it everything you had and worked hard no matter what. Fortunately, it turned out that I scored some goals on the other end and it ended up working out for me."
The experience behind her, she settled into her role on the Cajuns and entering her junior season Emokpae was determined to have a great season, "in the summer of 2016 I wanted to go into my junior year in top notch shape, since my sophomore season didn't go how I wanted it to, so I trained hard."
But as the Cajuns began fall camp, Emokpae suffered a serious injury during a practice session that put her faith and dedication to the game to the test, but things do happen for a reason.
"I stepped over the ball doing a move I worked on all summer," said Emokpae. "And my right knee made a loud pop and I fell to the ground. I was on the ground for about 30 seconds before I toughened through it and got up and got off the field.
"We had our physicals coming up about a week after I injured myself. My knee didn't show any signs of a severe injury but after the physical I got an MRI and that showed that I had torn my ACL and meniscus in two places.
"It was frustrating because I had worked so hard going into that season, but going through the recovery process I knew that it happened for a reason, and that God had a plan for me. I just continued to pray about it and God gave me a sense of peace about it and I knew that I would overcome this and become better from it."
For Emokpae it was a blessing in disguise, "It ended up working well for me because that was my first semester of nursing school and I don't know if I would've been capable of balancing playing soccer and nursing in that first semester without knowing what was expected of me."
She came back stronger than before for her senior season, and has been a starter in 16 matches through the 2017 season. She's scored four goals to help Louisiana navigate through its schedule.
"Dee Dee is a great girl who worked hard to come back from her ACL tear last season," said head coach Scot Wieland. "She's always got a great attitude and I know her studies have been hard and she's dealt with that but she's been a great captain this season and she shows up and works every day."
Emokape has learned in the classroom, but she's learned on the pitch as well. "Playing soccer has taught me some great lesions. I've stuck with the game, even though it hasn't been easy and that's taught me to never quit.
"It's taught me persistence and to not give up in anything that you're doing and to give whatever you're doing the best that you have. Hopefully for the most part things will turn out the way you want them to, but no matter what you gave it the most that you had."
A nursing degree is one of the most time-consuming majors offered by major universities, but Emokpae has been willing to take on the challenge of balancing both being a Division I athlete and a busy student.
That hard work on and off the pitch means that the legacy Emokpae leaves will be one of hard work and dedication to her career.
"I want people to remember me as a Christian and as someone who worked hard at everything she did. And someone who didn't give up when things got tough."
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