HERRIMAN, UT - JUNE 30: Gina Lewandowski #12 of Sky Blue FC defends the ball against Darian Jenkins #11 of OL Reign FC during a game between Sky Blue FC and OL Reign at Zions Bank Stadium on June 30, 2020 in Herriman, Utah. (Photo by Bryan Byerly/ISI Photos/Getty Images).

Gina Lewandowski plays for Sky Blue FC. She spoke with Just Women’s Sports ahead of Sky Blue’s semifinal clash with Chicago tonight about what the club needs to do to continue its run through to the NWSL Challenge Cup finals. 

You guys upset Washington in the quarterfinals in penalties. What was your mindset heading into the shootout?

PKs can always be a nerve-wracking experience for any team, and they’re not necessarily the way you want to end the game. But I think we’ve been able to fortunately practice them throughout the weeks leading up to the tournament, as well as every day during the tournament. We’ve been getting some reps in to get that consistency in each person’s shot. We have a great goalkeeper too who has done very well in that aspect, so I think we were confident at that point in the game.

Prior to PKs, it seemed like it was a pretty high energy game. There were a lot of shots, a couple of misses. What were your thoughts about the level of play?

We were able to control parts of the game, play our tempo, play our style. I think Washington, they also had their moments in the game where they were dangerous in front of the goal. But each team was having difficulty finding the back of the net, and I guess the longer the game went on, the thought crosses your mind in the back of the mind that, “Okay, well, if the teams aren’t going to score, we’ll go into penalty kicks.” But we kept pushing until the end. Even in stoppage time, we were pushing and trying to get a couple of corner kicks, a couple shots.

Is fatigue a factor? 

For sure. With any tournament situation, and especially this type of tournament, with the schedule, plus the heat and the altitude, there will be a lot of fatigue. But you have to go with the cards you’ve been given. We’ve just tried our best to adjust as quickly as possible. And luckily, our organization, our staff, our coaches, and our trainers have all done a great job helping us adjust as quickly as possible. I think playing so many games back-to-back, no matter if you play one, two, three, four games, there’s fatigue there. It’s just a matter of how can you rest, recover and put in your best performance during the next game.

It’s hard for people to judge on TV, but how hot has it been in Utah? 

I feel like it’s getting hotter by the day. The 10:30am game is definitely a much different feeling than it is in the evening. The heat is scorching pretty much in the morning right at ten on the turf, and the heat has gotten a little worse over the last few days. So yeah, I guess we’re glad to be playing in the evening semifinal, just from a temperature standpoint. But both teams are in the same boat, so it’s all about how you’re performing that day. How do you take on the challenge that’s presented to you?

What is the team’s focus heading into the semis?

We have been resting, recovering, fueling our bodies to prepare for the game. I think doing everything we can off the field to put our bodies, our minds, in 100% shape. As we get closer to the start, we’ll talk more about what we’re doing on the field as a team. But a lot of it is just getting our bodies to recover as quickly as possible, and then fuel them up heading into the game.

Does the team have a game plan for Chicago and their playing style?

We do have our team meetings and we do look at the other team’s strengths, and we always try to prepare for that. I think each team respects the other team and the opponent that they’re going to face. But I think ideally it comes down to us and who we are and staying true to our own style of play, and just playing our game and having confidence in that.

What do you think it would mean for your team to make it into the finals, and then one step past that, win the whole Challenge Cup?

Right now we’re taking one game at a time, and we’re trying to appreciate every day we get to stay here and step on the field, and just showcase who Sky Blue is. I think Sky Blue hasn’t had the best reputation in the past, but we’re a new team and new players and a new organization, in a sense, and we really want to do the best we can to showcase who we are. It would mean a lot for us to get to the next level and make it further than we have in a long time.