Senior Charlene Lui is one of the leaders on this year's team (Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
PROVO -- She might stand only 5-feet-2-inches tall, but don't underestimate women's soccer midfielder Charlene Lui. She has a lot of fight in her small frame and is determined to succeed.
BYU women's soccer head coach Jennifer Rockwood believes Lui is special because her determination, work ethic and positive attitude tower above the competition.
"Char (Lui) is amazing," Rockwood said. "She is the role model of all role models for what you want out of a student athlete on and off the field. It's the example that she sets, it's the attitude she has--always smiling, laughing and having fun--while at the same time working her hardest."
Lui's soccer career began when she was five years old in Hawai`i, though soccer was not necessarily her first choice.
"It was kind of a toss up between dancing and soccer," Lui said. "I couldn't swim. I tried out for swimming, but they wouldn't take me because I could only doggy paddle. Seriously, soccer was one of the few sports I could play because they let everyone play."
By the time Lui entered high school, she had fallen in love with soccer, and soccer did not seem to have any qualms with her either. She was a four-year starter for Punahou High School in Honolulu, a team that won three state championships. She was also an ILH First Team All-Star in 2001 and 2002, while joining the Olympic Development Program in 2001.
But Lui's soccer career was not always smooth sailing. After completing seventh grade, Lui's father informed her she would be transferring to Punahou in order to receive a better education. Lui does not hesitate to admit she was furious with the decision because it required her to repeat seventh grade and, consequently, change soccer programs.
Despite the change and frustration, she remained undaunted in her belief that everything would fall into place when the time was right.
"In the end, playing soccer that extra year really helped my skills and helped me get recruited," Lui said. "It was just a blessing in my life. That school provided the pattern for me to meet my club coach who helped me meet Jen (Rockwood)."
Because of the distance between Hawai`i and Utah, Rockwood had limited opportunities to see Lui in action. Luckily for Lui, Rockwood knew after only one game that she wanted the little ball of fire from Hawai`i. That news shocked Lui, who thought her performance had been dismal, failing to meet her own expectations for ball control and field vision.
The real challenge for Lui came the very next day, a Sunday. Rockwood decided to watch another game while she had the opportunity. Lui, however, made a commitment to herself long before that time not to play on Sundays. Lui remembers her embarassment as she walked up to Rockwood and informed her she would not be playing in the game.
It didn't matter.
That moment actually confirmed to Rockwood just how much she wanted Lui on BYU's team.
"The first thing that struck me about Charlene is her commitment to the Church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)," Rockwood said. "She played on this amazing team and was one of their best players, yet decided not to play on Sunday. That says something."
From the moment Lui stepped onto BYU's soccer field, her career has been a dream. She tried out for marking back, but somehow found herself at midfield, although still at times playing defender. She also quickly earned a starting spot as a midfielder.
The highlight of Lui's career came her sophomore year as BYU kicked the competition on their way to the program's first ever Elite Eight appearance in the NCAA tournament. Lui attributes a lot of that team's success to the senior class. She says they brought a tremendous amount of motivation and laughter, characteristics she hopes to bring to this year's team.
Her positive attitude and humor aside, Rockwood believes Lui's greatest asset is her technical ability with the ball--her ability to receive balls under pressure and see the field. Because she is so capable with the soccer ball, Lui has become the team's distributor, leading the offensive organization by ensuring the ball moves in the proper direction.
Lui attributes this strength to the training she received in Hawai`i.
"Soccer players in Hawai`i must learn how to take ownership of the soccer ball," she said. "We're not going to out-muscle anyone and, for the most part, we're not going to out-run anyone. It's not like it's natural ability. I just put time into lots of fast footwork with the ball."
Entering her senior season, Lui has much to look forward to achieving. Foremost, she believes the 2005 team is going to surprise people and turn a lot of heads.
Although the program has traditionally been a national powerhouse, the 2004 team struggled through a 7-10-4 season plagued with injuries and inexperience. Lui, however, is confident the 2005 team will return to its winning ways.
"I'm trying to end this year with a bang," she said. "Last year was a rough year, a really rough year. We all have a bitter taste in our mouths and I think that is such a motivating feeling. We all know we are not going to experience that again."
Lui is also enjoying the excitement of preparing to fulfill another lifelong dream, serving a full-time mission for the LDS Church. She remembers singing the words, "I hope they call me on a mission, When I have grown a foot or two," as a young child. The words resonated within her and her desire to serve has grown ever since.
Lui says it's difficult to believe the time is fast approaching to leave on her mission, as she will turn in her mission papers toward the end of the season.
"I love soccer and filling that void when the season ends would be tough," she said. "But to know that I am going on this great adventure is thrilling. Even if I go to Idaho or Madagascar or South Africa, I am just excited for whatever life is going to bring."
A bright smile crosses Rockwood's face when she contemplates Lui as a missionary. Strings of complimentary words come to Rockwood's mind. Lui is focused, committed and determined. She is caring, compassionate and understanding. She is motivated, approachable and humble. She has all the necessary attributes to be a tremendous missionary, Rockwood said.
"Char will be an amazing missionary because she has such a way with people," Rockwood said. "She is just one of those people that when she walks into a room with a smile on her face, you can't help but want to talk to her."
Rockwood is also confident that Lui's training as a soccer player will serve her well as a missionary. From soccer Lui learned the value of hard work. She is one of those rare athletes who understands that success necessitates pain, sweat and tears. And for Lui, it is that kind of sacrifice that makes success so rewarding.
In the end, however, Lui's most endearing quality is her humility.
"I was just a kid with a dream," she said. "And now here I am at BYU holding these cleats in my hands. I'm just so blessed to be living my dream."