Bend it like Breukelen

Breukelen Woodard of the women’s soccer team talks transferring to Penn, adjusting to the Ivy League, the job of an attacking midfielder, and her fondness for classic rock.

Breukelen Woodard of the women's soccer team poses sitting down near a Penn shield at Rhodes Field.

Whenever Breukelen (pronounced Brooklyn) Woodard of the women’s soccer team feels stressed or strained, she will hike to the Penn soccer fields and knock the ball around, or do some drills, or juggle. Working on her game, she says, takes her to a different place mentally and brings her comfort and peace.

A junior attacking midfielder from Rutland, Vermont, Woodard relishes the rush of scoring goals and winning matches, and also revels in “just kind of losing yourself in the game.”

“I like reflecting back on a game and being like, ‘Wow, I don’t even remember what happened because I was so in the zone. I was in a state of flow, almost,’” she says. “It’s peaceful. It’s fun. It’s peaceful but exciting at the same time.”

Woodard, who transferred to Penn after her freshman year at South Carolina, is first on the 8-5-1 Quakers in goals (five) and second in points (11). This season, after being challenged by Nicole Van Dyke, the Douglas N. Brush Head Coach of Women’s Soccer, she has become more of a threat on offense, locked in on taking more distance shots and being more involved in the offensive attack.

“Last year, I was more of a box-to-box player, whereas this year I’ve been looking to push the boundaries on that and get into more scoring opportunities,” she says.

On the sidelines of Rhodes Field, Penn Today rapped with Woodard about transferring to Penn, adjusting to the Ivy League, the job of an attacking midfielder, and her fondness for classic rock.

Breukelen Woodard of the women's soccer team prepares to kick a ball against Towson.
Image: Penn Athletics

That’s a very unique spelling of your first name. It’s Dutch. It’s my family heritage.

How cold does it get in Vermont? It can get to like the negative 50s, especially in the mountains. I live close to Killington so it gets really cold there. But it’s perfect weather for skiers.

Why did you decide to transfer to Penn? I definitely wanted to be more academically challenged. I think that the degree that comes from Penn has more of a guarantee for careers and more opportunities that come with it. I’m looking into the medical field and Penn obviously has one of the best medical schools and medical opportunities around.

Was it difficult adjusting to the Ivy League system? It’s definitely challenging. It’s just more of a commitment, I think, and it just requires more discipline. Your studies take up a little bit more time, and then soccer’s also very important. I think it carries the same amount of commitment level as it did from not being in an Ivy League school. I’m not going to lie, it’s challenging balancing both. You will have some late nights, you will have some stressful experiences, but I think it really teaches you discipline and it teaches you time management. And once you start to figure it out, it starts to flow a little bit easier.

Breukelen Woodard moves with the ball between two defenders against Stanford.
Image: Penn Athletics

What is your job as an attacking midfielder? We pretty much let the game flow through us. We have responsibilities of seeing the attack in front of us, switching the field, connecting from defense to offense, scoring goals, creating chances. We are kind of the playmakers of the team. 

Do you have a favorite soccer player? All-time? Current?

I guess both. All-time, for women, it’s always been Marta [Vieira da Silva, a Brazilian soccer legend]. She so skillful. Since I was little, I always watched videos about her, just her playing soccer. The same thing with Ronaldinho [also a Brazilian soccer legend]. He’s just so skillful. The current player, I would say it’s Messi. He’s also an attacking midfielder and I learn a lot from him. He finds these impossible seams and is so quick. It’s so fun to watch.

Breukelen Woodard of the women's soccer team moves with the ball between two NC State defenders.
Image: Penn Athletics

What are some things you learned from playing on last year’s Ivy League championship team? Last year, I didn’t have as much responsibility to win aerial battles because we had Trask in there, Allie Trzaska. I think I learned a lot from her just playing with her. I learned techniques on how to head the ball. And with her gone, we need to step up in the midfield and make sure we’re winning those battles, so I think I learned how to take a more aggressive role in terms of winning those kind of aerial balls. 

Why did you choose to major in clinical psychology? It really interests me, the mind and the powers that it withholds, in terms of your mental health and even physical health. That’s kind of the direction I want to go with it, doing the naturopathic ways of psychology and physical health in general. The power of the mind has more capabilities than we’re even aware of. Exploring that field and coming out with new, exciting information and being able to work with people in that area is something that I want to do.

You work as a research assistant at Penn Medicine. What do you like to do when you’re not in class, at work, or playing soccer? The very little time that that leaves; it’s kind of hard balancing all three of those. But when I do get free time, I play guitar so I do that. I like to practice meditation and yoga. Those are big parts of who I am. I like to listen to some classic rock.

Breukelen Woodard of the women's soccer team prepares to kick a ball in the air against Stanford next to a Stanford player.
Image: Penn Athletics

Like who? Who’s classic rock to you? This is controversial because I said Def Leppard to someone and they were like, ‘Def Leppard is not classic rock, it’s an ‘80s hair band.’ But Def Leppard, Guns N’ Roses, Red Hot Chili Peppers. They’re my favorites. Led Zeppelin.

That’s classic rock, except maybe the Chili Peppers. Who put you on to those bands? That’s not really your age group. I think my dad. I spent a lot of time with my dad in the car traveling to soccer practice because my club team was three hours away from where I lived, so three days a week, driving three hours there and back, a six-hour trip, my dad was like, ‘I’m not listening to this pop music anymore, I’m going to show you my music.’ I was stuck listening to it for a while and then I ended up really liking it. Now I show him songs.

Breukelen Woodard of the women's soccer team poses with a ball inside a soccer goal at Rhodes Field.