The FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup has catapulted many women’s soccer players like Brazilian forward Marta Vieira da Silva and American forward Sydney Leroux into stardom. Emory’s senior defender and co-captain Danielle Darius joins their ranks with her debut in the 2018 edition on the Haiti women’s national U-20 football team.

A week before she took the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), Darius, a psychology major on the pre-med track, received a call from the Haitian coaches offering a spot on the team. She hopped on a plane to Haiti the day after she finished the grueling exam.

In Haiti, the student athlete said she had to adapt to the faster style of play for international-level soccer, as well as the language barrier within her own team.

“It was very difficult at first, being almost an outsider joining the team,” Darius said. “I knew a little bit of French, but I had to pick up on Haitian Creole. There were a couple of American girls that had played previously and helped me out.”

Sports runs in the Darius family. Both her brother’s and her father’s involvement in sports inspired her to take up track and field and soccer in high school. However, Darius, affectionately known to her Emory teammates as “DD,”  eventually stuck with soccer.

Darius’ love for soccer started at age six. Her childhood soccer journey led her from her hometown of Lutz, Fla., up to Emory, where she has become a standout player on Emory’s defense. As a testament to her importance to the team, Darius was the only player to start all 18 games during the 2017 season.

Playing as a fullback or outside defender, Darius is impressive both on defense and offense. While she was part of an Emory defense that kept nine shutouts in 2017, Darius also tallied three goals and an assist en route to being named to the All University Athletic Association (UAA) Second Team.

Despite her impressive Emory career, Darius was surprised when she learned of her call-up to the U-20 Haitian Women’s team for the FIFA U-20 World Cup.

“I was definitely shocked,” Darius said. “I had talked to the [Haitian] coaches before summer. I heard they needed people, but I hadn’t heard a lot after. I kept my summer open, but I was mostly focusing on the MCAT.”

Darius said she agreed to an offer to play before considering any other options because she was so excited for the chance to play for Haiti.

Darius has represented for Haiti before, when she played for the senior Haitian women’s team for the 2018 CONCACAF Cup qualifiers in May, catching the attention of the Haitian team selectors.

Fellow Emory senior defender and co-captain Nikki Batt said Darius’ warm personality is a great morale booster and facilitates a sense of teamwork.

“Personality-wise, [Darius] is easy to talk to, easy to approach,” Batt said. “She is always smiling, no matter what we are doing. It’s nice to see, when you are struggling, and she is looking at you with her big smile.”

Batt added that Darius’ intelligent playing style is another major asset to the team, saying Darius sets a great example with her commitment to the game.

“I would say [Darius] is a lead-by-example type of girl,” Batt said. “She likes carrying the team on her back. She loves having the responsibility of being a captain and an attacking defender. If we need to score, we throw ‘DD’ up top because we know she will get it done. She’s going to crash the goal.”

Batt said the Emory team was proud of Darius, known to her team as a hardworking, passionate and humble soccer player

“[Darius] is so humble, and very low-key about [her soccer ability],” Batt said. “We were doing a lift one day, and we were like ‘Where is DD?’ Then we found out she was trying out for the Haitian team in Florida. We all flipped out and texted her good luck. If anyone on the team were to get this opportunity, we’re all glad that it [would be] her.”

Many Emory teammates actively followed Darius’ U-20 World Cup games online, Batt said. The team kept in touch with Darius to wish her luck and motivate her through the tournament.

After her international experience, Darius said she expected a lot more from herself as an Emory Eagle. Upon returning to train with Emory, Darius noticed that her time on the professional pitch benefited her playing style.

“I was not accepting any bad touches,” Darius said. “I really wanted to be almost perfect.”

The summer also made her realize the value of teamwork.

“I value team chemistry a lot more now,” Darius said.

Depending on if she is accepted to medical school this cycle, Darius said she is open to playing soccer after she graduates from Emory. For now, Darius will look to sign off her Emory career on a high note. After scoring her first goal of the season and the game-winner against Brandeis University (Mass.) on Oct. 14, Darius is on track for a fairytale finish as an Emory Eagle.

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Sammy John (20C) is from Sarasota, FL, majoring in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology with an Ethics minor. A diehard sports fan, Sammy writes about international soccer and as any self respecting Indian religiously follows cricket. Sammy co-founded Emory Table Tennis Club in 2018, and he enjoys playing soccer and ping pong to unwind.