Embracing the culture

Remember the days of sitting in grandma’s basement while she is cooking upstairs, the smell of sauce over taking the kitchen. A gathering of family downstairs as cousin’s gather and play. It was a typical Sunday gathering, a gathering of family.

It wasn’t any special day. It was a holiday. It was just family being family. It was a cultural thing, something that was brought over from generation to generation. It was a tradition and no one thought anything of it.

It’s good for people to embrace where they came from – or from where their parents and grandparents came from. It gives them a sense of belonging – a personality. It makes up who they are, and why they believe in what they believe in.

Every culture is different, but embracing your cultural shows that you still care about the traditions that have gone on for generations.

For Kenmore West High School soccer player Faye Panagopoulos learning about her culture is everything. She has embraced the fact that she is Greek, and what being Greek stands for.

“Being Greek is a very important piece of who I am,” stated Panagopoulos. “I wouldn’t know how to describe myself without that piece of information, because it’s such a big part. I’m very proud of my heritage.”

Wanting to know where you came from is something that Panagopoulos embraces. Wanting to know where her parents lived, and how they live dis also important. Many will probably compare being Greek to My Big Fat

Greek Wedding, but that isn’t the case.

Sure the family gatherings are big, but being Greek and knowing the Greek culture is so much more than what might be shown in a movie or television show. Panagopoulos and her brother are the first to be born in America.

Her parent’s, and the rest of their family, all come from Greece. It was have been easy for her parents to just let their kids take part in American culture, but they also wanted them to know where they came from. So, the Greek culture was also taught in their home. Learning Greek as a language was just as important and learning English.

“My parents were both born in Greece, so of course we embraced the culture big time. My brother and I are the first generation in my family to be born in America. Growing up, my parents spoke to me in Greek. I went to Greek school every Saturday to learn how to read, write and speak Greek, which has come in handy during soccer games when my dad yells something in Greek so the other team doesn’t know what he’s saying,” stated Panagopoulos. “We visit our family in Greece very often and sometimes they come here. Even on vacation in Greece, I continue to play and watch soccer with my cousins and friends. For me, soccer does not have an off-season. Soccer is very big in Greece, but not many females play it. It’s mostly a man’s sport, which was very surprising for me when I found out. So whenever I come for a visit in Greece everyone loves to ask me how my season went, how many goals I’ve scored and they all love to see pictures and videos of goals I’ve scored from the season. I was even invited last year before Christmas to a showcase hosted and organized by a professional Greek soccer team for young girls in my age group. Soccer is a big part of my heritage, so in a way, playing soccer helps me stay connected to my roots.”

If you haven’t figured it out by now Panagopoulos is a very good soccer player. The junior has shown steady improvement throughout her time on the Ken-West soccer team, and with the Western New York Flash.

The competition with the Flash has greatly improved her skill around the net. In her first year with Flash, she was thrown into games in the ECNL – one of the toughest leagues in the country. Playing against that top competition showed what Panagopoulos needed to work on.

“Last year was my first year at Flash as well as playing in the ECNL. The competition was definitely more intense and physical. I was very excited to be in an atmosphere with players who wanted to succeed and work hard during games and practices as much as I did,” stated Panagopoulos. “The competition fueled my desire even more to be the best, because I realized how many more great soccer players there are that I can soon be better than with hard work.

The competition led to me striving to be better, faster and stronger individually and as a whole with my team.”

Panagopoulos knew to be able to compete with some of the best players in Western New York, and the country, she needed to make sure she could finish around the net. Footwork is key to a goal scorer. Without great footwork you might as well be a defender or keeper.

So, during the offseason, Panagopoulos made sure to concentrate on her footwork and finishing around the goal.

“My dad always told me to be a good forward you have to be dangerous in the box. Having good feet is extremely important to being dangerous and being able to move from side to side. Foot work is one of the pieces to being a good soccer player, especially in the box when having defenders right on your back,” stated Panagopoulos. “With foot work you’re able to turn, or do a move to quickly get around a defender and have a shot on net. I also believe speed is important to have as forward in order to fly by the opposing team. Everything done as a forward is very quick.”

While she only tallied five goals last year as a junior, college coaches quickly took note of her work ethic and potential. Sometimes potential is more important that peaking while in high school. Sure she hasn’t put up the gaudy numbers that some high school soccer players put up throughout the years, but her game translates well at the next level.

While she had opportunities to play elsewhere, Panagopoulos chose to stay home and play for Daemen College, an up and coming Division II program right here in the heart of WNY. It gave her a chance to stay at home, while play some of the better competition in the country. Daemen is the only Division II program in WNY.

“When I initially started the recruiting process, I always liked the idea of staying home to gain my education and continue my soccer career while still being able to appreciate my mother’s Greek cooking. Immediately Daemen College took my interest because it has an amazing PA program, which is the career I am looking to have in the future<” explained Panagopoulos. “I really enjoy the small campus, and how everyone knew everyone there, it made it feel more inviting and personal. Daemen College also has a great D2 soccer program with high competition, which I know will make me work hard and strive to be the best. When we met with coach Dan I knew Daemen College was the right choice for me. It ideally had everything I was looking for when searching for a college.”

Panagopoulos knows she won’t just be able to step on campus and start right away without putting in the work. That’s why this seaosn Panagopoulos will be doing everything possible to improve every aspect of her game.
Scoring goals is the most important thing when it comes to being a forward, but on the collegiate level it’s about the all-around game. Being able to do the little things game in and game out. Being physical fit to be able to take the punishment of a grueling collegiate schedule is also important.

“I’m so excited to continue my soccer career at Daemen College and I hope to contribute right away. Even though the pressure of committing is off my shoulders, I have new pressures such as being the best I can be so when preseason at Daemen starts, I will be more than ready,” stated Panagopoulos. “I definitely need to keep working hard, and need to show that I am ready for the college jump. I’d like to continue to work on my ball control, because you can always get better. I’d also like to gain even more endurance so that I will not get as tired during practices and games, which will make more proficient throughout the season.”

Before college, however, Panagopoulos has been improving during the high school. Last year she was disappointed with her performance with Kenmore West, only scoring five goals. She knows she needs to improve her goal output if she is to help lead the Blue Devils to a sectional title and a run through the playoffs.

“I expect many more goals and assists from myself, unfortunately I was unable to play in the first couple games due to not having enough practices, because I was visiting my family in Greece. This season I expect much more from myself, especially knowing that this is my final year playing as a Lady Blue Devil. I want to put everything out there and give my 100 percent at all times,” stated Panagopoulos. “I definitely will not accept anything less than being the best this season. I really believe that this past year I have developed into a great soccer player. I’ve been training all summer with Matt Waddington and I chose not to go to Greece this year because I wanted to train and be ready for the upcoming season. I have more endurance, better shots, and make good runs. I know I am definitely ready for this season. I want to lead the Kenmore West soccer team to a better season than the past couple of seasons we’ve had. I expect myself to be a good leader and captain while making the girls on my team strive to be the best just as I do.”

Panagopoulos has formed a pretty good one-two punch with fellow forward Molly Tubin. Tubin, who will be heading to Niagara University, was the leading scorer for the Blue Devils last season. Her and Panagopoulos have a great chemistry that can only get better through the season this year.
Panagopoulos hopes that chemistry will lead to big things for the Blue Devils come playoff time.

“I believe Molly and I up top together is a super strong duo. We each have our own strengths and together we are able to accomplish a lot in the attacking third. When I take corner kicks, I always try to give a ball that Molly can head into the net. In the past two scrimmages we’ve had, I’ve placed the ball in the perfect spot for Molly to head it in. I believe corner kicks will be a strong suit this year for our team so I’m very excited for league games to begin,” stated Panagopoulos. “Molly has great ball control while I have the speed which makes us a great combination. Molly and I do great give and go’s to one another and she often gives me great balls to run onto. We play off of each other very well and we both have powerful shots, so I think we will definitely give the defense of any team we face a run for their money.”

As the season comes to an end, it’s just the beginning for Faye Panagopoulos. Her family will still be able to see her play when she attends Daemen College in Amherst. And she will be to still get all that great Greek food.
It’s a win, win, for everyone.

“The best part about being Greek is definitely the food. I love Greek cooking,” stated Panagopoulos. “Another thing I love about being Greek is my HUGE family. They are all so loud, fun and crazy for soccer.”