September 15, 2003

Slaton & Wagner: Growing Up Together

Sept. 15, 2003

By Karyn Lush
wusa.com

For half of their lives, they've donned the same uniform and it's all because they faced each other wearing opposing uniforms more than 10 years ago.

Danielle Slaton's youth team was lined up against Aly Wagner's and Slaton's came out on top. Out of that match came an idea -- why not combine the two teams?

And so Slaton and a handful of her teammates joined Wagner's Central Valley Mercury team. They were 11 years old, and the two natives of San Jose, Calif., have been playing together ever since.

As teenagers, Slaton and Wagner were already exhibiting the characteristics which form the backbone of who they are today. When a game was on the line, Slaton rose to the occasion. Whether it was leading the team to a victory or helping to seal a win, she could be counted on.

"D is always a very strong leader and someone that stepped up when we needed her to," said Wagner. "She played well all the time, but if the pressure was on, D was going to be one of the people who was going to step up."

Vicki Wagner, who managed the Mercury throughout her daughter's and Slaton's teenage years, recalls Slaton's sophisticated nature.

"Danielle was a very polished, intelligent, classy teenager," said Vicki. "She was probably the most mature of the girls on the team. She had an ability to relate to adults and to be compassionate with her teammates well beyond her years."

Beyond a flair for the creative, Aly was known for her all-out passion for soccer. Naturally gifted at the game, she constantly honed her skills.

"Aly is probably one of the most talented people, just naturally, that I've ever met, but she's also one of, if not the, hardest working people I've ever met," said Slaton. "Rarely do you see someone who is born with such natural talent and then who works so hard to increase it."

Her mom knows Aly's drive comes from within.

Aly Wagner (pictured) and Danielle Slaton led the Broncos to the 2001 National Championship.


"She's just very, very inner-driven," said Vicki. "That's the way she is in everything she does -- in basketball, swimming, even if it's just a board game. She needs no extrinsic rewards to motivate her. It's just her personality. And that's the way she still is today."

Together Danielle and Aly helped lead the Central Valley Mercury to three straight youth national championships from 1996-1998. In 1999, they won an unprecedented fourth straight national title when they played for the Colorado Rush, who were coached by the Atlanta Beat's Tom Stone.

In the midst of winning four consecutive youth titles and playing together at Presentation High School, Slaton and Wagner were each faced with the decision of where to play collegiately.

For each, the decision came down to staying close to home to attend Santa Clara or to travel a distance away -- Slaton to North Carolina and Wagner to Notre Dame.

Although Wagner wasn't sure yet where she was headed, she did her best to convince Slaton not to go to UNC, a school she had already crossed off her list.

"I knew that I didn't want to go to North Carolina and be a Tar Heel," said Wagner. "I didn't want to go win their 20th national championship or whatever they were on. I wanted to take my own path and do something a little bit different and try to achieve something and help a school achieve something that they hadn't achieved."

With Wagner's words resonating in her mind, Slaton came to the same conclusion -- she wanted to help a program do something it had never done before. Wagner, however, was still debating between Santa Clara and Notre Dame. Now it was Slaton's turn to do the convincing. But a visit to South Bend was all that Wagner needed to settle the matter as she found herself freezing in the cold and snow. Plus, she knew the Fighting Irish already had a championship ring. There was just one thing left for Wagner to take care of -- telling her teammate and friend of her decision.

"I remember when she told me that she was going to Santa Clara, I jumped up and down and started screaming," said Slaton. "I was really excited because I'd get to play with her for four more years."

After three years of pursuing the elusive championship, they accomplished the goal they had set when they came to Santa Clara. In 2001, they helped the Broncos win their first national title.

"There's so many memories that vary from being so disappointed and upset to not winning, to feeling like you'd gotten robbed from a championship that you could have won because you had the talent, to being so elated and overjoyed winning it," said Slaton. "I can't even begin to start to put it into words."

Completing her collegiate career in 2002, Slaton was off to join the WUSA's Carolina Courage as the top draft pick. Wagner, meanwhile, returned to Santa Clara for her final season since she redshirted her freshman year due to an ACL tear. A year later, she too would be the top pick in the WUSA draft.

While they don't get to spend as much time together now, it hasn't affected their friendship.

"Aly and I have a relationship where if we don't see each other, if we don't talk to each other a lot, it doesn't really matter because we pick up right where we left off even if it's been a couple of months since we've got to hang out," said Slaton.

But there is still one jersey that they both wear -- that of the U.S. national team. And together, two longtime pals from San Jose are preparing to chase the biggest prize - the World Cup.

"I grew up with her my whole life," said Wagner. "She's a fun person, a positive energy to be around. [She's] definitely a friend you can trust and you know will be there for you."

"It's kind of weird when I say, 'Oh, I've known her for over 10 years,'" said Slaton. "That's kind of weird to me. But she's awesome. I love her to death."

©RMG3 2003