Years before he started coaching college soccer, Georgetown women’s soccer Head Coach Dave Nolan coached at the club level, starting out at the Players Development Academy in New Jersey and later moving on to a club team in Bethesda, Md. Even after he moved to Bethesda, Nolan would come back in the summers to work clinics for the PDA. It was at one of these clinics where Nolan noticed a talented young player by the name of Daphne Corboz (COL ’15).
“I remember doing a clinic, and Daphne was only a little kid in the clinic, and she just had this mop of hair. If you’ve never seen it, she has this mop of curly hair,” Nolan said. “She must have been only 12 at the time, and you could see that she was a special player even at that age.”
Nolan was hired to take over Georgetown’s program in 2004, which gave him the opportunity to recruit the same 12-year-old he had seen at the clinic many years ago. By then, Corboz had developed into one of the top soccer players in New Jersey, and Nolan saw a player who could eventually step into the shoes of Ingrid Wells, the three-time All-American Georgetown midfielder who graduated in 2011.
“Originally, to be honest, Daphne was all set to go to Princeton. She was a very smart kid — had her whole life kind of figured out even at an early age,” Nolan said. “I persuaded her to come down for a visit, and then when she came down for the visit, I think she saw what Georgetown was and sensed what would be a better fit for all of the things she was looking for — soccer, academics, quality of life — so we were able to get her in.”
Corboz had an illustrious career at Georgetown from 2011 to 2014. After being taken under Wells’ wing as a freshman, she spread her wings and became the face of the program over the next three years. The three-time All-American midfielder made 80 starts in 82 appearances and accumulated 134 points over her four-year career. Her 47 career goals still stand as the most goals in program history.
Luckily for Nolan, there was an equally talented Corboz beginning her recruiting process in 2013 during Daphne Corboz’s junior season on the Hilltop: her younger sister, Rachel Corboz.
“I had to go and basically recruit her all over. You would think the sister would help me out, but she wanted Rachel to make her own decision,” Nolan said. “We got her down for a visit because she would come to a lot of our games. She saw and liked how we played soccer. Some kids want to blaze their own trail; they don’t want to be in their sister’s shadow or their brother’s shadow, but I honestly think that the one thing that helped us a lot was that the two girls went to different high schools.”
For Rachel Corboz, the decision came down to Georgetown or Rutgers, where her former club soccer coach was the head coach. In the end, she could not resist the chance to play on the same team as her sister, an opportunity she never had in high school. In fact, her older sister’s high school team defeated hers in the county finals when she was a freshman.
“A big part of why I came here was because Daph was here. I’ve been coming here to Georgetown in the fall since Daphne was a freshman here, so I kind of knew a lot about the school, about soccer, about Dave, so it was kind of an easy decision for me,” Rachel Corboz said. “Looking back, it might have been tough back then, but I couldn’t be happier that I ended up here.”
Playing together for a year was everything the sisters could have wanted. As a team, Georgetown only made it to the second round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament, falling in overtime to Virginia Tech 4-3, after upsetting third-seeded West Virginia in penalty kicks in the first round. But talk to both sisters and you can tell that the season, though short-lived by program standards, was special because of the experiences they shared together.
“The first time Rachel assisted one of my goals, I remember being so happy that I directly went to celebrate with her, and I kissed her,” Daphne Corboz said. “She was not happy with me. For me, it was such a special moment that our bond created a goal.”
It was not always smooth sailing, for the two of them or for Nolan, who had to manage Daphne Corboz’s fiery personality with her more soft-spoken sister.
“Daphne’s far more vocal. Daphne would be more likely to have words with somebody if she felt something wasn’t being done to her liking,” Nolan said. “She was far more likely to confront somebody. Rachel’s a little softer. Rachel would be more likely to lead by example, but she also would talk to people, but in a nonthreatening manner. Daphne was a little bit short with people. Daphne intimidated people. I don’t think Rachel intimidated people, but I think both of them led by example and both of them were well-respected.”
In a game against Seton Hall in 2014, Daphne Corboz lashed out against her younger sister, and Nolan had to calm down the elder Corboz, who was known for being hard on her sister.
“Daphne made a play, didn’t work out, and she turns, and she yells at Rachel, basically a ‘What are you doing?’ type of thing, and it was right in front of the bench, and her mom and dad were also in the crowd,” Nolan said. “So, after the game, I pulled her over and said, ‘You can’t do that. You wouldn’t have done that to one of the regular freshmen, so you can’t do it to your sister.’ And she’s like, ‘She made a bad play.’ And I said, ‘She didn’t.’ And I brought her in, and we watched the video, and Rachel didn’t do anything wrong. Daphne just got frustrated and she lost the ball.”
“I think Dave and Rachel would both agree that I may have taken it too far at times,” Daphne Corboz said. “But for me, I was pushing for the best for the team and for Rachel. Off the field, Rachel is my best friend — I love and miss her so much.”
Nolan knew that the tough love came from a good place.
“Daphne was Rachel’s biggest fan, and I think Rachel just adores her older sister, because she saw all the great things and the great career her older sister had,” Nolan said. “Daphne would work so hard, so Rachel would work hard too. She kind of had that person that she could always see, not necessarily as role model, but she looked up to how hard Daphne worked.”
As the season progressed, Nolan saw Rachel Corboz settle in with the team and begin to assert herself more as she prepared for her sister to graduate after their lone season together.
“I’m sure she probably felt, at times, that Daphne was being a little bit hard. But by the end of her freshman year, Rachel was giving it back to her, which I was ecstatic to see. That was good, and I think it was part of the maturation process for her as a player, but also as a person,” Nolan said. “I think them playing together for one year was great. I think that if they had to play for two years they may have killed each other. So one year was probably just perfect.”
Rachel Corboz said that she appreciated the benefits of having an older sibling as a guide on the soccer team during her freshman year.
“It was so nice coming in — obviously I was a scared little freshman, but having an older sister on the team that’s a senior and a captain there was really, really helpful,” Rachel said. “There were times that obviously she would get on me a bit, but I think it was necessary and helpful, so I’m not angry about that.”
As Rachel Corboz has grown into a team leader, Georgetown women’s soccer has reached new heights, winning the Big East Championship in the last two seasons and advancing to the College Cup in 2016, bowing out to eventual national champion University of Southern California in the semifinals. This fall, the team made the NCAA Tournament again, but lost to Wake Forest in penalty kicks in the second round.
“It’s truly been amazing to see the progression of the Georgetown soccer program, and for Rachel to be a big part of that makes me very proud. Selfishly, the program’s current success is a positive reflection on the alums,” Daphne Corboz said.
For Nolan now, the task at hand is finding the next great Georgetown women’s soccer player. He may be able to replace the sisters’ on-field talent eventually, but he knows that it will be tough to find someone as special, both on and off the field, again.
“You miss them on the field, but you miss them off the field. They’re really good kids, and they’re a lot of fun to be around,” Nolan said. “They’re a coach’s dream because they want to win, and they’re competitive. They put soccer very high in their priorities of the day. They’re just good kids to be around, a lot of fun, never giving you trouble off the field, and that seems to be where we are as a program right now.”
As Nolan looks to keep his program rolling, the Corboz sisters are transitioning to professional soccer.
Daphne Corboz is currently on loan from the National Women’s Soccer League’s Sky Blue FC with FC Fleury 91, a professional women’s soccer team competing in France’s First Division.
With Rachel Corboz’s college soccer career now over and graduation approaching in the spring, she is looking to follow in her older sister’s footsteps. However, she is unsure whether she plans to play professionally in the United States or in Europe.
In the meantime, Nolan continues to hold out hope that there is another Corboz sister out there somewhere, looking to keep the Georgetown tradition going in the family. In fact, he has had a little fun with his Big East coaching peers, telling several this season that another Corboz sister, by the name of Penelope Corboz, will be suiting up for the Hoyas next season.
“It is funny. I’ve told a whole bunch of people there’s a Penelope,” Nolan said. “She’s the best of the bunch.”