Whenever Marshall junior midfielder Lauren Byrne needs to be inspired, she turns to a book she has cherished since picking it up at a school book fair in third grade.
Byrne has reserved a special place on her bookshelf for "Wilma Unlimited," which chronicles the story of Wilma Rudolph, an African-American sprinter who overcame polio and prejudice to win three Olympic gold medals in 1960. Last Wednesday, with her field hockey team's first ever state tournament berth on the line, Byrne decided to try it out on her teammates.
On the bus ride to Oakton High School for the Northern Region semifinal against Westfield, Byrne called the Statesmen and their coaches together, read the book aloud and exhorted the team to overcome obstacles just like Rudolph did. The reading ended with the Statesmen in tears, but duly motivated.
Marshall, which chanted "Wilma!" throughout the game, defeated Westfield, 2-1. The Statesmen came back the following night to beat W.T. Woodson, 2-1 in overtime, in the region championship, ending the Cavaliers' streak of three straight region titles and avenging two losses from earlier in the season.
"It's a really inspirational book," Byrne said. "I still literally get goose bumps while I'm reading it. I just wanted to share the feeling with my teammates. I started to cry in the middle, but they all talked me through it. I enjoyed being able to say that to them because I think we're like a family. I feel comfortable saying things in front of them that might be sappy."
Byrne's leadership has extended to the field. She has nine goals this season, including two in the region playoffs. The Statesman (18-5) will face off against Central Region runner-up Prince George at 2 this afternoon as the state quarterfinals begin at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. With so many school firsts and thrilling victories, Marshall would seem to have to guard against a letdown. But Byrne isn't worried.
"It seems like our team is like elastic," she said. "When someone doesn't come out and play her best, the rest of the team bends itself to support her. We all understand this is a huge opportunity for us. I don't foresee a letdown happening."