Gardiner Leaves Yeowomen After Program Turnaround, Successful 67-Game Career


Photo Courtesy of OC Athletics

Senior forward Gwennie Gardiner fights for a ball against the Kenyon College Ladies’ defense in the Yeowomen’s 2–1 loss to the Kenyon College Ladies on Oct. 24.

Gwennie Gardiner wears a ribbon in every single one of her soccer games. It’s for good luck. However, she probably didn’t need it when she scored her fourth goal of the game at the 22:30 mark of Oberlin’s 8–0 dismantling of the Geneva College Golden Tornadoes on her way to the program’s first United Soccer Coaches’ National Player of the Week award in September.

She has long since traded her ribbon for a Yeowomen’s Soccer sweatshirt after playing her last game on Oct. 28. Of course, this was before earning an All-NCAC Second Team and an Honorable Mention to go along with two First Team selections, the only NCAC First Team All-Regionals selection in 2017, and the first Offensive Player of the Year Award in program history. Even in her last game — a 3–1 win against the DePauw University Tigers — she managed to set more school records. When she netted a breakaway in the 83rd minute, her second goal of the game, she iced the program’s first-ever win against the Tigers.

As a four-year starter, she was the player to watch in nearly all 67 of her games. At 5’3”, Gardiner matches up with opposing defenders like Jose Altuve does with Aaron Judge. But with track and field All-NCAC speed, it wasn’t so tough for spectators to keep an eye on her. Outside of 46 goals and 107 points scored in her career, it was one-step cuts like a slot receiver and Bolt-like dashes that left scouts and coaches alike in awe, and defenders — as well as pretty much the entire North Coast Athletic Conference — trying to keep up. On the other hand, her Kevin Garnett-like passion would be easier to appreciate, let alone more contagious, if she could just find a way to stay in one place.

For her, that sort of enthusiasm is more recognizable off the field. Even for record-setting collegiate athletes, after a rainy preseason practice it’s easier to go across Oberlin’s campus from the practice field to Slow Train in a car. So last year, when then first-year Jackie Brant was doing just that, Gardiner decided to hop in the car with her new teammate. As an informal introduction to the team, a post-practice coffee became an hour-and-a-half conversation between the two soccer players.

Gardiner joined her first club soccer team when she was five. Club, of course, is the best track to being recruited to play college. No one recruits from high school anymore. But, in seventh grade and still only 5’2”, she had to make a decision. She loved soccer and volleyball, but she wasn’t growing any more. She always had fun playing volleyball, but she was better at soccer.

Before fellow senior Josie Marshall braided her hair and helped her put on a ribbon — a 67-game tradition — for the first time in 2014, Gardiner knew that she had her work cut out for her. Dan Palmer, who at the time was putting together his first recruiting class as head coach for the women’s soccer team, had been extremely blunt with her. The Yeowomen were barely a soccer program. He told Gardiner, who was weighing offers from other liberal arts schools and attempting to play Division I, that if she came to Oberlin, she’d be the start of a complete rebuilding process. But he said she’d have the opportunity to be a huge asset and a part of something special. With a neuroscience degree, one that not many other liberal arts schools offer, and the chance to headline a program overhaul, she was in. She ended up with majors in both English and History, but pretty much everything else went according to plan.

In the Yeowomen’s matchup against the Baldwin Wallace University Yellow Jackets just a week before they faced the Golden Tornadoes, Gardiner scored a goal that was a little different than the other 45 in her career — or any moment in her career, really. In the 80:55 minute, she scored a goal that she felt like she didn’t have to do anything for. If anyone else happened to have been playing striker at that moment, they would have scored the goal too. The team she joined had come a long way by the time she left it.

With junior All-NCAC Second Team defense Maddi Kimball and first-year All-NCAC Honorable Mention midfielder Lucy Fredell returning to a team that was just one or two games away from the fourth seed, next year’s Yeowomen might just make the playoffs — or at least beat Kenyon. These are both milestones that Gardiner never reached in her four years representing Oberlin. No matter how many wins they get, the leader of the program’s turnaround won’t be here to see it. But, she’s not too stressed about it. She’ll probably just be with her fiancé — Ben Venerdi, OC ’17 — on the beach.

“I’m not very interesting,” she said. “I’m just a girl who played soccer from San Diego.”