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2009 grad wins British national championship
Academy graduate 2nd Lt. Roni Yadlin, right, played for University of Oxford during the school's 2010 season. Here, the 2009 Holaday Scholar dribbles the ball upfield in a game against Cambridge in February.
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2009 Grad wins British national championship

Posted 4/23/2010   Updated 4/23/2010 Email story   Print story


by Retired Lt. Col. Steve Simon
Academy Alumni Programs

4/23/2010 - U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo.  -- NCAA eligibility rules are very specific: scholar-athletes are limited to four years of intercollegiate athletic eligibility. Luckily for 2009 Air Force Academy graduate Roni Yadlin, the NCAA's authority ends at the water's edge.

Yadlin, the 2009 Holaday Scholar studying at the University of Oxford's Exeter College, is now a proud member of the British national championship soccer team -- or, more accurately, their football team.

A four-year letter winner and team co-captain her senior year at Air Force, Yadlin thought her collegiate soccer career had concluded at the end of Air Force's 2008 campaign. Upon researching all aspects of grad-school life at Oxford, however, she learned that she was still eligible to play in England. The British University and College Sports organization, or BUCS, is England's equivalent to the NCAA and does not count U.S. competition against its totals.

"I was really excited to find out that I could continue to play college soccer," she said at the time.

Yadlin is the seventh recipient of the Holaday Scholarship, endowed in 2003 by Bart and Lynn Holaday. This scholarship annually sends a top-ranking Academy graduate who competes for but does not receive a Rhodes Scholarship to attend Exeter College at England's University of Oxford for two years of graduate study. Yadlin is working on a Master of Science degree, by research, in Engineering Sciences.

"I am researching an extremely theoretical control technique known as Model Predictive Control, which uses an infinite control horizon," she explained. "The goal of my project is to use Model Predictive Control to design control laws to accomplish the attitude control of FalconSAT-5, the Academy's small satellite. If all goes well, these control laws will be verified on simulations and possibly implemented on the satellite when it launches later this year."

Bart Holaday, graduate and president of the Class of '65, attended Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, where he earned a master's degree in philosophy and economics from Exeter College.

"Lynn and I are delighted to hear of Roni's successes at Oxford, and we're very proud that she's part of Oxford's national championship soccer team," Mr. Holaday said. "She is a remarkably talented and well-rounded young woman with much to contribute both to the University and the Air Force. She exemplifies the outstanding leadership, academic excellence and competitive spirit that we look for in our scholars."

Shortly after arriving at Oxford -- actually, before even beginning classes -- she went out for the football team. Tryouts were grueling, lasting 13 hours over two days. It was worth the effort, however, as she was named to Oxford's first team -- what Americans call varsity. The team comprised an almost equal number of British and American players, with representatives from both the undergraduate and post-graduate communities.

After starting and playing every minute of the first four games, however, Yadlin caught a bad break -- literally.

"My right foot slipped, and while trying to catch myself, I rolled over my left ankle and broke it," she recalled.

That cost her the next several games. However, the fortuitously timed winter vacation gave her additional time to heal back home with her family in Irvine, Calif.

Though she missed the first round of the playoffs, she fulfilled her goal of playing for the Oxford Blues in the team's most important match of the season, against Cambridge. For comparison, think Yale-Harvard, USC-UCLA, Ohio State-Michigan or Army-Navy. The Cambridge game is outside of the league construct, Yadlin said. It is an annual match between the two schools that has happened the last 125 years for the men and last 25 years for the women.

In the first round of 32-team BUCS playoffs, Oxford prevailed over St. Mary's College. Having been knocked out in the first round the previous two years, this was a significant accomplishment in and of itself. Not satisfied with that, however, the Blues went on to play Worcester, a team that had beaten them twice during the regular season. With the game tied after regulation and two overtimes, Oxford won in penalty kicks.

After coming on as a substitute against Worcester as she worked to get back into game shape, Yadlin returned to the starting line-up for the next tournament game versus Essex. She scored her team's first goal, but the Blues needed a second goal, which they got five minutes before the final whistle, to send the match to overtime, where they again won. The semi-final opponent was Exeter University and Yadlin was back in form, scoring the go-ahead goal in the 2-0 victory.

The final was held at the Sheffield Academy. Unlike in the United States, the BUCS finals for all sports are played in the same city at the same week, so it is a real spectacle. After giving up an early goal to Bedfordshire, the Blues recovered to take a 2-1 lead, then withheld a furious Bedford rally to win Oxford's first-ever football national championship.

"It doesn't surprise me at all that she's now a national champion. In all my years of coaching, I have never been around a more dedicated athlete," said Marty Buckley, Yadlin's head coach at the Air Force Academy. "Not only is she a great player, she is an outstanding student of the game of soccer."

Current Air Force women's soccer head coach Larry Friend, a 1985 Air Force Academy graduate, echoed Coach Buckley's sentiment.

"Roni Yadlin was a great team captain who brought a tremendous passion for the game and the Academy to our program. As a player she loved to run with the ball and never quit," he said.

Yadlin said she hopes for one more season with Oxford before finishing up her degree program and returning to the United States and Undergraduate Pilot Training in 2011, finally leaving collegiate soccer behind.

Editor's note: Retired Lt. Col. Steven Simon is a 1977 Academy graduate and the Academy's graduate liaison, working in the Development and Alumni Programs office. In addition to his extensive non-fiction writing, he is the author of two novels, "On the Dead Run" and "Service Before Self."

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