If you could see inside the locker room of your favorite team, I expect it would be almost a spiritual experience.
You’d see your favorite player’s name-plate. You’d see his or her jersey. You’d see the confines of their space.
I expect you’d see a lot of gear, maybe a couch or two, a few plays drawn up on a big whiteboard. I’m sure there’d be a lineup card somewhere, maybe a scouting report.
That’s what I was expecting when I walked into the hallowed space at Titan Stadium.
The locker room sits on the south side of the field, coated in a deep navy blue with “Titans” painted loudly on the front of the building that overlooks the field.
The championship years boom out over the pitch in white.
So when I walked into Fullerton’s locker room to meet the senior duo that’s been making noise for CSF in forward Christina Burkenroad and midfielder Rebecca Wilson, I stopped in the entryway.
Quotes, words of encouragement and mottos covered the tan-colored walls.
With high ceilings, some of the scribbles must be at least four feet tall.
“Family” written in blue echoes throughout the room.
“Play so hard to win, that it hurts so bad to lose,” is memorialized above a row of lockers on the left.
Autographs decorate the back wall from past Fullerton greats: Karen Bardsley, Ann Marie Tangorra, Stacey Fox to name a few.
Burkenroad and Wilson have yet to leave their signatures, as the task goes hand-in-hand with a senior’s final game.
With a weekend left in non-conference play prior to Big West action, the pair has a lot of soccer left to play in orange and blue.
“Play like a senior” can also be seen written on the wall, just between Burkenroad's and Wilson’s lockers.
For these two, the sentiment is now a reality.
Wilson became a Titan in the fall of 2011 and recorded a three-goal campaign in her first season while adding four assists for 10 points.
Burkenroad, the reigning Big West Tournament MVP, joined a season later and helped the Titans to a 10-9-1 overall record and a 7-2-0 mark in league to clinch the Big West Conference regular season title, CSF’s fifth all-time and first since 2007.
Adversity struck in the fall of 2013 when injury sidelined Wilson just five games into her junior campaign.
“It was definitely scary knowing she’s an asset to the team,” said Burkenroad, remembering Wilson exiting the field. “It definitely changed our perspective.”
With a fractured foot, Wilson was immobilized for six weeks, unable to walk, let alone suit up alongside her teammates. But, no stranger to setbacks after ankle surgery her freshman year and ACL surgery her senior campaign at El Dorado High School in Placentia Calif., Wilson decided to use her time on the sideline to her advantage.
“It [was] a good time to step back, and learn from a bystander’s [view] point,” said Wilson.
The forward focused on watching play in a way that would allow her to approach teammates with suggestions to fine-tune their game.
Wilson also said, “I wanted to be a leader.” And that’s what she became.
The forward’s biggest takeaway from watching her teammates duke it out on the pitch was the vitality of playing “selfishly” up top.
“As a forward you have to be selfish. It taught me that in certain cases where I want to share the ball I might have to be a little stingy so we can get goals.”
Just a few months after her epiphany, in the fall of 2014, Wilson paced the Titans with 10 goals, six more than her previous two seasons combined. Her 10 goals were just second in conference to Elise Krieghoff of Cal Poly, who netted 14.
Wilson added three assists for 23 points, also a team-high, and was named the Big West Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year.
In a year that saw CSF clinch both the regular season title and the Big West Tournament title, Burkenroad recorded a team second-best six scores, a Titan-best four assists and 16 points.
Combined, the duo managed 16 goals of the team’s 30 scores, accounting for 55.3 percent of the Titan’s offense. So, what makes the duo so effective?
Wilson and Burkenroad might chalk it up to similar playing styles, matched speed, an extensive amount of training knowing where the other will be on the field…
“I think we both have the same mentality,” said Wilson. “We’re both really aggressive, we both are goal-minded and if there’s a one-two we can do, we’re both fast. We both have that intensity.”
What isn’t seen on the pitch is that Wilson and Burkenroad’s chemistry stretches far beyond the boundaries of the field – so far in fact, that it takes them right to the coast… with surfboards strapped to the top of their car.
Wilson calls them: “beach bums.”
Burkenroad has been surfing her entire life, a love of her father’s that she and her brothers have since shared.
The ocean is a special place for the Burkenroads, as Christina lost her mother when she was just four years old. While her mother might not have joined in on catching waves, she had a deep love for the ocean as well.
“My whole family has been surfing forever,” said Burkenroad. “[My mom’s] ashes were thrown in the ocean. So I start paddling and I immediately feel like I’m with her.”
Christina tells the story without a break in her voice – instead, with a smile on her face.
Her love for the ocean is obvious and the strong connection to her mother and the waves wash over as she describes Scripps Pier in San Diego, where her family stood more than 15 years ago to peacefully scatter her mother’s ashes.
“Besides soccer, there’s no other feeling like getting in the water and just paddling, taking a wave,” explained Burkenroad. “Even the days you get crushed by every wave, it’s so fun to get out there.”
For Wilson, surfing is a complete escape.
“It’s my place where I can empty all of the stresses of soccer and playing a captain role and most of the time feeling the weight of the team on my shoulders. It’s just my place to dump it and unload it all in the ocean and just let loose.”
The two first started surfing together a couple years back when Wilson was determined to learn the sport.
Burkenroad, a long-time surfer by then, accepted the challenge to teach Wilson the ins and outs of the art, and the two have been catching waves ever since.
For as hard-working as they are in their quest for improvement on the field, they are as relaxed on the beach whether it’s Huntington, San Onofre or San Diego, where they claim they can catch the best waves.
“If we can’t make it to the beach,” said Wilson, “we’re somewhere else. Somewhere soulful.”
While surfing and soccer might be at the heart of the pair’s connection, they’re also at the heart of the team.
When head coach Demian Brown challenged his team physically in the spring of 2015, Wilson and Burkenroad were there cheering on their teammates when they felt more like collapsing after the ever-so-dreaded “marathon” – a concocted mix of timed miles, sprints and campus runs.
“[Coach Brown] ran us into the ground but it was with a purpose,” said Wilson. “It was for the games when you think you’re tired and you’re not because you’ve already done the hard work and you can overcome pretty much any physical barrier.”
Both worked tirelessly in the spring after a heartbreaking end to Fullerton’s 2014 season and are determined to have a different outcome come Tournament time this fall.
Up two goals to none in Palo Alto, Calif. in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Nov., Stanford would go on to clinch a come-from-behind 5-2 victory to advance – ending Fullerton’s season for the second year in a row.
“We know we have a lot to prove,” said Burkenroad, thinking back on the Stanford match. “We want to win so bad, each one of us, and we’ll do anything to get there again.”
The Titans are off to a good start in accomplishing that goal as they sprinted out to a 6-0-0 start, the best-ever in program history.
CSF now hopes to claim its third consecutive Big West Tournament title and third regular season title in four years.
Wilson has already amassed eight goals this season, giving her 23 total in a Titan uniform and the third-most in Fullerton history. Her 58 points are fourth-best and her 12 assists are 10th-best all-time.
Burkenroad has also already written her name in the Titan record book as her 45 points are ninth-best in CSF history.
The senior has five goals so far in her final campaign and between Burkenroad and Wilson’s 13 scores, the pair has accounted for 68.4 percent of Fullerton’s goals scored.
The connection might be stronger than ever on the field, but Brown reveals it's what has happened to the women off the field that’s kept them so in tune.
“They’ve had to battle through a number of different things off the field and through those battles they have this type of union on the field. There’s a mutual respect for one another.
“They’re similar but in different ways. They’ve had similar trials and tribulations but different trials and tribulations. How they’ve handled whatever their situations, they’ve handled them the same – with dedication, courage, responsibility. And I think a lot of that maturity is what we’re seeing now.”
If you could see the inside of the Titan’s locker room right now – the Titan’s safe haven, the Titan’s “somewhere soulful” – you’d find “WIN” written on the board in blue.
“We. Initiate. Now.”
If you could see the inside of Burkenroad's and Wilson’s hearts, I think they would look a lot like a soccer ball being kicked on a stretch of beach. They’d be wearing Titan jerseys, there’d be perfect waves on the horizon and there’d be a little bit of Rebelution playing from a boom box in the sand.