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Claire Constant adds senior National Team experience to women’s soccer program

The fifth-year center-back represented Haiti at the CONCACAF Women’s Championships

<p>Graduate student defender Claire Constant is ready to bring her professional experience to help the Cavaliers to another strong season.&nbsp;</p>

Graduate student defender Claire Constant is ready to bring her professional experience to help the Cavaliers to another strong season. 

Seven years of French classes were not as useful as Claire Constant — a graduate student defender on the Virginia women’s soccer team — had expected when she landed in Costa Rica for training camp with the Haitian women's national team.  

“I had taken French for seven to eight years, and though I don't speak it, I was kind of confident going in,” Constant said. 

That confidence quickly departed as she learned that Haitian Creole was the preferred language of the national team. In fact, Haitian Creole — which combines French with the traditional languages of the Africans enslaved by the French — is the most common form of Creole in the world.  

Constant, an Alexandria native, is a key cog of the Virginia women’s soccer team that has gone an impressive 65-14-9 since she joined the team in 2018. Despite the team falling to No. 4 BYU in the third round of the NCAA Tournament this past fall, Constant’s 22 starts in 23 games, provided the stability for the Cavaliers to win the ACC regular season title in an extremely competitive conference.

The 2017 Gatorade Player of the Year — an award given to a high school athlete recognized as the best player for their respective sport — for Virginia, Constant has always earned exceptional recognition for her talents. From 2014 to 2018, Constant was selected for U.S. Women’s National Team camps on five occasions. However, for reasons of her own, she did not envision herself playing for the U.S. Women’s National Team at the senior level.

“When I was 18 I knew that playing for the U.S. at that level was not something I wanted to do, so when I got the opportunity to join the Haitian Team for this past camp, I immediately knew that I was meant to play for Haiti at the senior level,” Constant said.  

Any player is eligible to represent their parents’ nation of origin, according to FIFA rules. For Constant, that connection would be her father, who is from Mirebalais, Haiti.

The opportunity to play for Haiti presented itself in April in an unconventional manner when Constant was approached to represent the Haitian National Team via Facebook and Instagram direct message. The U.S. National Team communicates through email, so she was skeptical of the credibility of these messages. 

“I did some research on the guy who messaged me and it seemed legit,” Constant said.

Fast forward to July 4 and Constant was lining up against the likes of U.S. National Team stars like Alex Morgan and former Cavalier Becky Sauerbrunn for her first international cap in the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football Women’s Championships.

Before the CONCACAF championships, Constant attended Haitian training in Costa Rica. 

“That experience was unlike any experience I have had in my life,” Constant said. “Basically, I went and met a whole new team who have known and played with each other for years.”

This experience would be difficult for any player, let alone needing to overcome a language barrier. She did not expect it to be easy, though. Constant joined the national team knowing that she had to prove herself to her new teammates, and she approached the challenge with marked humility. 

“Going in with this new group of girls who have lived a completely different life than me, I knew … that it was going to be important for me to earn respect and not take little things to heart — to understand that it's bigger than me and bigger than the game of soccer,” Constant said.

She thanked the humility she learned from Virginia Coach Steve Swanson, who has created a competitive environment that demands the highest success, but also a player-driven culture that aims to create good people out of his players.  

“He develops players on and off the field — it's more about the person that you are rather than the players and that's what's so special,” Constant said. 

Coach Swanson’s strategy and commitment to his players are what make the program so successful, evident not only through collegiate success, but also through the amount of his players that play professionally after their time with him. 

His knack for development comes from his unique understanding of the modern game of soccer. Swanson has worked in the U.S. Women's National Team system since 1999 and has since helped the U.S. to back-to-back World Cup victories in 2015 and 2019 after being appointed assistant coach for the senior national team. Notably, he witnessed two of his former players from Virginia — Class of 2007 alumna Becky Sauerbrunn and Class of 2015 alumna Morgan Brian — play the full 90 minutes in the 2015 World Cup victory.

Needless to say, Swanson’s experience has only strengthened his program at Virginia, and he is familiar with the heights his players want to reach and how to help them get there.

“I understand what the modern game demands — physically, technically, tactically and psychologically,” Swanson said. “I think it's valuable to see the next level.”

After the 2021 season, three of his players — Taryn Torres, Laurel Ivory and Diana Ordoñez — joined the list of 26 other former Cavaliers coached by Swanson to play professionally, including multiple World Cup Winners. Swanson showed respect for Constant’s experience with Haiti.

“All things considered, she did a remarkable job,” Swanson said, speaking on her challenging but beneficial experience with the Haitian Women’s National team. 

In the CONCACAF Women’s Championships, Haiti went 1-2, falling to the U.S. and Jamaica, but beating host Mexico 3-0. In the last 10 minutes of Haiti’s match with Mexico, Constant played against former Virginia teammate, Diana Ordoñez.

“That was a lot of fun,” Constant said. “She's been doing so well and it was fun to be on that stage and play against her. After the game, we got to see each other and we shared a hug, it was great.”

Unfortunately, Haiti’s one victory was not enough to earn them a berth at the 2023 Women’s World Cup hosted by New Zealand and Australia — which would be their first ever. However, in February 2023, there will be a two-game playoff where Haiti will have a final chance to qualify. 

In the meantime, Constant will be participating in more Haitian National Team training camps in preparation. Going from a prestigious program like Virginia to a growing program like the Haitian National Team demands a serious mentality shift from Constant. 

“At U.Va we are expected to win,” Constant said. “That's a pressure I have come to understand. With Haiti, we want that pressure. We want people to expect us to win. We lost two of the games and they weren't great scores but people were surprised and there are huge fans of Haiti now.” 

The CONCACAF Women’s Championship was not yet the stage for Haiti to shine and take down the world’s best, but in time, Haiti could earn the pressure with which Constant is so familiar. The future is bright for her and Haiti. 

Turning her sights back to Virginia, Constant is very excited for the 2022 campaign. She is returning for her fifth year alongside a stacked graduating class with All-ACC talent. Graduate student forwards Alexa Spaanstra, Haley Hopkins and Rebecca Jarrett are all returning for a final season.  

“It'll be so special to have everyone there for our last season,” Constant said. “My expectations are very high — ACC Championship, national championship, those are the goals right now.”

After a gutting PK shootout loss to conference rival FSU in the 2020 College Cup semifinal and a premature third round exit in 2021, this team has a point to prove. Constant can now bring national team experience to an already talented side, making these goals all that more attainable