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Courtesy: Washington State Athletics
Taking On Adrienne Rizzo
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Courtesy: Washington State Athletics
Release: 10/24/1999
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Oct. 23, 1999

PULLMAN, Wash. -- Practice is over. It's just another day for Adrienne Rizzo. Except that today the freshman has an interview, and I'm the lucky guy to do it.

I have heard a lot about her. Just a couple months into her stay at WSU she's already notorious, not just for what she does on the soccer field, but also for what she does off it.

On the field, she's sure to be around the latest whistle - nearly guaranteed to be the cause of the first foul, the last and any in between. Off the field she's gained a reputation by being just a little bit different -- relaxing to the crooning of Frank Sinatra, for example.

As she arrives for the interview she looks safe enough. A small bag of ice on one leg and a tiny cut on one hand are the only signs that Rizzo's been getting physical on the soccer field of late. Right then, just looking at her walk into the room, there's no way of knowing that 30 minutes later I'll walk away with pain induced at her hands. There's no way of knowing that I'm going to be yet another victim of Rizzo's wrath, splayed out on the ground like one of the opponents unfortunate enough to have to fight her for a ball.

That's Rizzo's mystique, and her charm. They say that looks can be deceiving, and in her case that's a drastic understatement. Packaged inside that 5-foot-5 frame is a bundle of energy that should have a warning label attached.

Those of us who don't know her range of interests and personality stumble forward unwittingly like a first-time surfer in a Jaws movie, never stopping to ask, "Hey, what's with that music?" Before our ultimate demise, we'll hear about Hulk Hogan and a very special laundry tub the color of his wrestling tights. We'll get 'The Lecture' on Sinatra and Louis Armstrong. We'll see a picture documenting the strategic stalking of celebrities at Pro-Am golf tournaments. And we'll hear stories about 4-year-old opponents, trips to the grocery store and anything else that Rizzo lets escape from the annals of her mind.

And so it begins...

A year ago, Rizzo was working toward her California Central Coast Section defensive player of the year honor as a senior at Presentation High in San Jose. During Rizzo's prep career, Presentation compiled an 80-5-5 record and won two CCS championships.

But this year Rizzo, like any freshman, had to discard all past accomplishments and start over. Her old reputation meant nothing in the Pac-10. It was time to build a new one, while going through typical transitional growing pains.

"I was surprised the first couple games with the quickness and the speed (at the collegiate level)," Rizzo said. "It takes a while to get used to it. But the team has really been there for the freshmen to give them a helping hand and to boost them up.

"I just wanted to go out and show that I could play with everyone on the team. I wanted to physically show that I could get to the ball and that I could tackle hard."

Tackling, sometimes legally, sometimes not, has been what Rizzo's done best this season. It is the mark of a tenacious defender, and it's usually Rizzo's opponents who come away scarred. Not even one full season into her career, hard tackles have become her calling card - and she's more than proud of that.

"That's the best part of the game," Rizzo said of physical play. "I always look forward to it. Before each game I pick out one person and my goal is to go after them hard and aggravate them....It could be the way she tucks in her shirt, the way she talks, it doesn't matter. I'll just pick her out and try to get to her."

Which doesn't mean that you're safe if not a predetermined target. "I'll always take on someone else too," Rizzo assured. "I'm not limited.

"It's the best part of the game. On game day I wake up and I feel like I'm going to hit somebody. I know that I'm going to hit somebody. I'm going to get into it."

Why would she think any differently? Since her soccer experience began at 4-years-old, Rizzo has organized more hits than the Godfather.

"My first soccer game we had a coed team and a boy passed me and my father yelled, 'Get him,'" Rizzo remembered. "So I sprinted like thirty yards, pulled down his shirt, 'WWFed' him (tackled him) - it didn't even matter where the ball was - and that's where my fouling career got started.

"I've been called 'Butcher,' 'Destroyer,' 'Intimidator,' by other parents on other teams, and that's what I like. I want to get into somebody's head so that they can't concentrate on the game. They are worried that the next time the ball comes to them I'm going to be up on them and hitting them hard, so they look over their shoulders to see if I'm coming."

Rizzo seems to have a knack for making people look over their shoulders in fear. Consider one of her prized possessions, a photo of Party of Five star Scott Wolf back-dropped by Rizzo and six other smiling teenage girls.

"He looks terrified," Rizzo said with a grin. He's just another one of the victims though, one of the celebrities that got too close to Rizzo and her high school friends at a Pro-Am golf tournament. It wasn't a chance meeting on any account. Just like Rizzo stalks a soccer opponent, she and her friends had Wolf in their sights long before he was even at the golf course.

"We basically go out and check the paper to see what celebrity is at what course," Rizzo said. "We have a little time sheet and we hit every one."

Although photo opportunities are rare, they've gotten at least some hello's from the likes of Bill Murray, Whoopi Goldberg, Jack Lemmon, Ashley Judd, and Ken Griffey Jr., not to mention some casual conversation from actors Kevin Costner and Andy Garcia.

"They (Costner and Garcia) actually stopped and talked to us and asked us where we were from and what we were doing, why weren't we in school," Rizzo said. "That was great."

And so it continues...

Despite some affection for the young and well-dimpled, many of Rizzo's tastes off the field are a bit more aged. Sure she's got a picture of Wolf, but don't forget Ol' Blue Eyes.

"I listen to jazz and Frank Sinatra," Rizzo said. "I get made fun of a lot by the team for this. I think it's my more mellow aspect. I go so hard on the field and then I have this opposite end where I'm listening to Frank and chilling out...

"I never follow the trend. I'm always the person who goes away from it and sees what I can do myself. I've got people who walk into my dorm right now and they give me the funniest looks because I have this huge picture of Frank, and then there's Louis Armstrong. They are always like, 'Who are these people?' And then I have to give them The Lecture: 'These people are legends.'

"I get made fun of, but that's okay."

After all, one has to get used to some ribbing when their favorite two sporting events to watch on television are the Indianapolis 500 and the Kentucky Derby.

"We had a tradition at my house," Rizzo explained. "There was a yellow laundry tub and on Indianapolis 500 race day that would be my car. I would pretend that I was Mario Andretti. This started when I was four or five and went until I broke the tub at like 15 and I couldn't fit in it anymore.

"I would sit in that tub and lean with the turns. I'd have the whole newspaper out in front of me, with a picture of each racer. I'd take a black marker and cross people off, 'out of the race,' or 'flat tire.' I'd watch the whole thing."

Before you consider Rizzo a little off-kilter solely based on that childhood activity, consider that for Christmas she once got a cash register - and she was thrilled.

"In fourth grade that's all I wanted for Christmas," Rizzo said. "I was obsessed. I used to love going to the grocery store. My mom would go get groceries and I would just watch the lady at the register ring things up. It was all I wanted, so my parents went and got me one. I don't know, I still play with it sometimes so I want to bring it up here next year. You know, charge people at the door."

If she ever does, her friends probably won't even bat an eye.

"She's definitely a spaz," said fellow freshman, midfielder Ashley Honda. "She's crazy, but a good person to talk to...She's incredibly smart. You can talk to her about anything. She'll get really deep into conversations. She pulls out these things that make us say, 'Okay, Rizz, whatever.'"

This isn't a surprise, 'Whatever,' is the first thing that comes to mind when Rizzo tells you that she wants to become a firefighter, but she's not kidding. Since her freshman year in high school, it's been her biggest dream next to playing collegiate soccer.

"It's something I've always wanted to do," Rizzo said. "The hours are nice, and you're in the community and not behind a desk."

But a desk would be safer, right?

"The way I look at danger is that you can get in a car and go to some cubical-job and get into an accident and die," Rizzo said. "I don't think of it as dangerous if you are prepared and know what you are doing."

And so it ends...

The interview, like the 1999 soccer season, is almost over. I'm thankful because despite some severe pain in my sides from laughing myself out of my chair, Rizzo's been easy on me - no fisticuffs.

"I haven't been in a fight yet," Rizzo says. "I got a red card once. The ref told me I should stop playing soccer, that I was a danger to the sport...I just laughed at him."

But what about all those people you've "WWFed?"

"I was a big Hulk Hogan fan when I was little," Rizzo says. "I just use the word, you know, when I give somebody a little body slam."

I'll take her word for it, because I'm suddenly identifying with that 4-year-old kid that got upended by Rizzo years ago. Some of us are just too delicate for this line of work.

Others, like Rizzo, are made for the rough-and-tumble life.

"Soccer is just my life, I can't live without it," Rizzo says. "To be injured for a week or something, I go out of control. I get bored."

Then isn't your style of play a little dangerous?

"I don't get hurt," Rizzo says with a smile. "It's usually the other person."

Somewhere that 4-year-old boy is shouting, 'Tell me about it.'

Jason Bellamy
WSU Sports Information

Washington State Cougars Women's Soccer
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