By Matt Franzblau
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
The ability to anticipate a play is something that is hard to teach. Those who can do it are often complimented with possessing a natural-born ability. Whether it is on the court, across the ice or down the field, an athlete's sense of where they are in relation to their teammates is an invaluable asset. It is one that the Kansas soccer team benefits from on a regular basis, thanks to junior Whitney Berry.
Berry, a forward and midfielder for the Jayhawks, finds herself as the centerpiece to many of her team's scoring opportunities.
"I like to see things before they actually happen," Berry said. "I will kind of play out what will happen and then I get the ball, see something, turn and put it where my teammates want it."
That formula has worked out pretty well for the Wichita, Kan., native who at one point this season was leading the nation in assists.
"Honestly, I did not even know I had that many until I was told," she remembered.
As hard to believe as that may be, Berry prides herself on not analyzing season stats, but rather making sure she gives everything she has while out on the pitch.
"I just try to leave it all out there," she said. "If I can walk off the field without any regrets, then I feel pretty good."
With that kind of attitude, Berry has left the Jayhawk Soccer Complex with her head held high many times during the past two plus seasons. Aside from her intensity, Berry cites her ability to see where she fits in on the KU team as one reason she has successfully made the jump from high school to the collegiate ranks.
"It is all about knowing your role," the two-year letterwinner said. "When you come in as a freshman you have this idea of how things are going to be, and you are either completely wrong or completely right. My freshman year I would say I was pretty right on about what I thought it was going to be like."
If Berry thought during her first season in the Crimson and Blue she would be named to the Big 12-All Newcomer team, score six goals, add nine assists as well and break the all-time KU freshman assists record, then she would most definitely make a good prognosticator. As right on as her expectations may have been, Berry surely could have not envisioned the success she would see as a sophomore in 2010, being named to the All-Big 12 Second Team for a second consecutive year and breaking her school's all time assists record midway through her junior year.
"Whitney is the kind of kid that when she puts her mind to something, she is going to do it," said KU head soccer coach Mark Francis. "When the game is on the line, she is not afraid to step up and say, ‘hey, give me the ball and I will get it done for us.'"
For Berry, that moment has come quite often this season as she has seen herself score seven goals in her team's 18 regular season matches, not to mention setting a new school standard with her 13 assists during the 2011 season.
One of the players who often benefits from Berry's vision and quick reaction is sophomore forward/midfielder Caroline Kastor. The two may be a year apart as far as class rank goes, but they seem to be one when out on the field.
"I think we kind of have the same vision and are just able to connect really well," explained Kastor. "Whitney sees the game very well, so that makes it easy to play off of her."
"Kastor will make the run that I am looking for and we can kind of give each other eye signals," Berry said. "Ingrid (Vidal) does it too and because of their body language I can tell where they want the ball and where they are going in order for them to score."
Another aspect of Berry's keen vision includes her ability to see herself beyond the collegiate ranks. The assists leader would like to follow in the footsteps of former Jayhawk soccer greats Caroline Smith (2002-06), who played professionally for the United Soccer League and Estelle Johnson (2006-09), who currently plays in the Women's Professional Soccer league.
"I talked to Caroline a little bit when she came back and got her number retired at KU (Sept. 29) and I keep in touch with Estelle all the time, as she still is playing for the Philadelphia Independence," Berry said.
From her interactions and first-hand experiences, this college standout feels she has what it takes to play on the next level.
"I watched the women's national team play Canada in Kansas City a few weeks back," Berry recalled. "You can just tell; it is just one more level up and the competition is definitely a step ahead, so it is exciting to think that I could be a part of that."
"That is a goal that she set for herself a long time ago," Coach Francis said. "She set her class schedule up so that she can be done next December. That way if she gets drafted, she is in a better position to go to training camp and get ready."
"It has been tough as I have had to be here every summer taking classes," the student-athlete said. "It is a lot. but it is not unattainable. If someone is going to do this, though, they have to be disciplined."
Another thing that stands out to Berry's coach is her sheer competitiveness, whether it is on display during a match or just between teammates in practice.
"From my experience our most dominant players, in terms of their contributions to the team, have all been extremely competitive," Francis said. "They make other players better because they are so competitive and Whitney is cut from that same cloth. Her competitiveness just rubs off on other people."
Perhaps that mindset has rubbed off on number seven, quite literally in the form of permanent ink. Berry is the owner of eight tattoos, the first of which she got after she turned 18. It reads, ‘tell me I can't, I'll prove I can'. That mantra fits the now 21-year old as she is proud of her determined and motivated attitude.
"If someone tells me I can't do something I like to prove them wrong," Berry explained. "I like a challenge, so if someone tells me I am a terrible defender, I know in my mind that I have to be a great defender."
The same also goes for Berry's team. If the forward/midfielder feels like her Jayhawks are not getting the respect they deserve, she knows it is time to step it up.
"We have been chosen the last two years to finish eighth in the Big 12 out of the eight teams that go to the tournament, so that just makes us feel like we have to prove something," she said. "That's why playing those teams (maybe identify which teams she is referring to specifically) and beating them is so much more gratifying."
With Berry's ultra-competitive spirit and keen vision on the field and off, this soccer star may be dishing out assists far beyond the Jayhawk Soccer Complex in Lawrence. All it could take is for just one person to doubt her abilities and number seven could be soon suiting up for a club at home or abroad, just to prove them wrong.