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March 16, 2015

Daniela Eppler is by far the most-veteran player on the field for today’s game, for either team. As lineups are announced, Eppler will be introduced among the game’s starters for the 69th time since her freshman season.

“I started playing club lacrosse in the summer of eighth grade only because all of my friends were getting better than me, so I had to start playing club to keep up,” Eppler said. “I never played lacrosse with the intention of going to school to play lacrosse. I loved playing and I just wanted to be able to play with my friends and be able to contribute on the field. When I started getting letters to go to different schools, it was pretty eye-opening that I was actually better than I thought that I was. It was very flattering to hear from top schools that I would have been applying to anyway with my academics. I didn’t want to pick a school just for lacrosse. I didn’t want to pick a school I would be disappointed in academically. I wanted both at the same time.”

Though the Baltimore native initially thought she wanted to go to a city school like Georgetown or Penn, Eppler found that perfect combination of lacrosse and academics, along with the bonus of a pair of coaches in Julie Myers and Colleen Shearer (“they really made me feel special, were really genuine and I knew they were going to be easy to get along with”) at Virginia.

Eppler has been a versatile player for those coaches, shifting from defense to mid back to defense and back to mid, filling in wherever her talents and speed were needed. She hasn’t missed a game, or a start, since making her debut in the season-opener against Loyola in 2012.

“I have never felt pressure to play or to start,” Eppler said. “My success in lacrosse has come from me not having any mental pressure on myself or from my parents. When I play a game, I genuinely enjoy being out there and just want to do the best I can for my team, but I really just enjoy being out there. I love coming to practice. I love the intensity. There is more pressure on myself now and `Oh, I hope I still get to play.’ Now I want to do my best, be myself and keep loving it.”

Eppler, a foreign affairs major who is also working on her accelerated masters in public policy, sites her parents, John and Cecilia, on her short list of role models. John, a doctor, (“he is extremely smart and talented and always looking out for me and supporting me,”) is a Virginia alum who played three years of lacrosse, skipping his junior season to concentrate on pre-med and trying to get into med school.

“I wanted to follow in his footsteps even more, because when I came here, I wanted to be a doctor and do pre-med,” Eppler said. “I changed my mind and wanted to do something more along the lines of global development. I thought that in the [third-world countries] that I had visited, there were systematic problems that I might be able to fix with policy rather than just treating individuals, so that’s why I started studying public policy instead.”

Cecilia, a former neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins, (“the most caring, genuine person ever. She is so loving to me. I honestly couldn’t ask for a better mom. I really look up to my mom and hope to be like her. She has been my role model from the beginning”), used to travel to Mexico City to perform research in low-income hospitals in rural areas, taking along Eppler and her brother, John, on those extended trips.

“Being exposed from a young age to how the poor people in Mexico were waiting in line for days, carrying their children to these hospitals, really affected me,” Eppler said. “It is so easy for us to just drive to the hospital and when we don’t get seen right away, we complain about waiting for two hours. These people are literally waiting for days and not receiving the healthcare they need.”

Eppler has translated these convictions into action. For the past two summers, she has volunteered with Global Vision International, spending two months in Nepal in 2013 and two months in South Africa in 2014, working with special needs children.

“Working with the special needs kids had never been a focus of mine, but the last two projects I’d done I ended up working with them,” Eppler said. “Going there and having an interest in health care, I could see that these kids were not being treated the way that they should be. There aren’t nurses taking care of them, just caretakers. They aren’t getting fed well and aren’t getting the exercise they need and the treatments they need. A kid with epilepsy might not have brain damage if they were being treated better or fed better. It made me want to work with these kids and see what I can do, even though I wasn’t trained, either.

“In Pokara, Nepal, I helped the kids be more self-sufficient, teaching them how to open jars and tell people by pointing what they wanted to do. I helped them be able to verbalize things better, which wasreally helpful for those kids and helped them function a little better on their own.

“In South Africa, we stayed in an apartment, kind of dorm-style, in Gordons Bay near Cape Town, which was a 10-minute walk from the Nomzamo township. We were living in a nice apartment complex and literally ten minutes away, two families are living in a shipping container with six or more people living and sleeping there.

“This one girl that I was working with at the Ikayalethemba orphanage, Aseza, had a mild condition, but had a lot of behavioral problems. She was always disrupting the group and being punished for it. It was my idea to separate her and give her a one-on-one tutoring, which is what they would probably do with someone like her in an American classroom. I started doing one-on-one tutoring, taking her to a special room and making her feel special about it. We got really attached to one another, because she never had that bond before where people were actually giving her attention, wanting her to learn and giving her some love.”

Even when she was 8,000 miles from Charlottesville, Eppler still knew that lacrosse needed to be a focus. She found some inventive ways to keep up her offseason training.

“In Nepal, I shared a tiny room where our two beds barely fit in there, but I would do Insanity in there. I would go for runs. They thought I was nuts. In South Africa, at first I was doing Insanity outside, and then I would do our 240’s. I measured out 120 yards and I would literally sprint on the road. They also thought I was nuts. People don’t do that there. I’m a woman and I’m in shorts and t-shirt and athletic gear, which people aren’t really in, and I’m sprinting on the side of the road like a crazy person, at night, dodging the cars, but then I found a gym. I did some lifting and treadmill workouts with a kilometer treadmill, which was a little bit of an adjustment at first. I was running on Speed 7, and I was barely even walking, and then I figured out it was in kilometers.”

This coming summer, Eppler will be doing an internship for her masters program. She wants to return to South Africa, but if that doesn’t work out, she has also applied for an internship in the Dominican Republic. Before that, though, her focus is clearly centered on lacrosse.

“I really love playing, so I don’t care what position I play. I’d even play goalie. As long as I get to play and be in that competitiveness.”

“Thank you to my parents. My mom has not only been my role model, but she has also been there for me in every single way you could possibly imagine since I was a baby. My mom comes to all of my games. She is my biggest fan. She tells me what I’m doing right and wrong. My dad is always supporting me and is a role model as well. He is extremely smart and talented and always looking out for me and supporting me. To Colleen and Julie, I couldn’t have asked for a better program, school or coaches. My past four years here, our team has been through ups and downs. I know that Colleen and Julie have always supported me and been there for me. If I have ever had a problem, I could always talk to them about it. Really caring and I have enjoyed having them as my coaches.

“Thank you to my team because I couldn’t ask for better teammates and friends. And finally, thank you to [Athletic Trainer] Blair Moore. She has had to deal with me for four years always having treatment. My four years wouldn’t be the same without her constant love and support for me. I thank her so much.”

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