It has now been just a little more than 2 weeks since the start of preseason and a lot has happened. We have officially started our regular season, this feeling both surreal and exciting. The dreaded Illinois fitness test feels like months ago and the school year is fast approaching. Our sheltered life simply filled with practice, lift, and meals will soon be over once classes resume. I plan on cherishing this time because soon enough my nights will be consumed with homework and my days with classes. However, classes starting back up also mean friends will be moving in and the campus will be loud and lively. Everyone is starting to become stir-crazy locked up in the dorms and could use some commotion.
As much as we have been consumed with soccer these last few weeks, there have also been some great team events. When the Special Olympics came to UMass late last week we played a special role in the opening ceremonies. Along with the football team and ice hockey team, we helped to run out the torch and met all the athletes. The experience was heart warming and gratifying for all the UMass athletes, but particularly special for me. My brother participates in the Special Olympics so the experience really hit home. He is a huge supporter of the team and I so to get a chance to support the Special Olympics and the program he plays for was something I'll never forget. Just to see how excited all the athletes were to meet and dance with us was amazing. As I am reminded everyday with having my brother in my life, the athletes in the Special Olympics are the true role models and inspiration. Events like these remind me that it is a privilege and great blessing that I am able to play soccer for UMass everyday.
Another great team day last week was our trip to Six Flags followed by a cookout at Coach Matz's house. While those of us who like roller coasters went one way, the rest of the girls enjoyed a relaxing day at the water park attempting to fix their developing soccer tans. I fell into the roller coaster loving group, mostly because my Irish skin will only burn during a day in the sun. A dinner at Coach Matz's house preceded and as tradition, the junior class cooked everyone dinner. Although the burgers and chicken were good, I think it's safe to say we don't have many chefs on the squad. Next year it's my class's turn and based on my cooking, I don't think the expectation should be too high.
Although just a scrimmage, our first competitive game was against Boston College. Being ranked #11 this year we knew that BC was a very strong team and that the game would be a good challenge for us before our home opener against UCLA, ranked #6. Our schedule is extremely tough this year, but a great way for us to prepare for the NCAA tournament, our ultimate goal. The final result of 5-0 was disappointing however we learned a lot from the game. We have a very young team this year and every day we are constantly improving and molding into the team that we will ultimately be. I think that our coaches put it perfectly when they said that come November, we will be a much better team than we showed at BC on August 10th. Hopefully we will be able to prove this come November and maybe get another crack at Boston College.
We left the BC game with a lot to work on if we wanted to even dream about competing with UCLA. We had a week of practice to do it and everyone worked extremely hard at every session to do so. It seemed like things were starting to come together and practices improved day by day. With a good week of practice under our belts, everyone was confident that we could compete with UCLA and even beat them. The Alumni weekend kicked off with our Golf Tournament Fundraiser on Friday and on Saturday all the alums were back on campus. It was great to reconnect with all of the girls again and to know that we had their support in the game. A top 10 team has not come to UMass to play in a long time and it could be the last and only chance we have in our 4 years so there was no denying just how big the game was.
Come Sunday, everyone was nervous, but also excited to kick off the season with a huge win and statement to the rest of the country that UMass soccer is a competitor. For me the game was bitter sweet because a part of me was so excited for my team and the game, but the other was extremely disappointed that I wouldn't be playing myself. My goal is to see this program grow so that these games are not so rare because I may never get another opportunity to play a team like UCLA in my time at UMass. We competed until the very last second, but eventually lost 2-1 in a close game. Despite losing, I guarantee not one of the hundreds of people at the game walked away doubting the potential and strength of this team. If I wasn't motivated to get back on the field before, I am after watching my teammates in the UCLA game. I think we could have a very special year if we continue to progress and work hard in practice. Our next opponent is Bryant, who any returner knows, we owe in a big way from last year. Our goal is to make UCLA our one and only loss of the season and to see them, just like BC, again in November.
A lot can change in just a year. This time last year I was preparing to embark on my freshman year of college and first preseason as a UMass Minuteman. I had played all summer with my club team and I felt confident in moving to the next level. However, I had no idea what to expect and on one hand the transition was filled with a lot of anxiety, but also with plenty of excitement. I knew a few girls on the team, but the majority I had never met before. Having played with the same girls - and for the same coach - for almost half of my life meant that this was a change that I had to get use to. I also had never lived away from home and saying goodbye to my family and friends was very hard. It didn’t help that I was the first to leave that summer and all my friends were still at home enjoying their last August before college.
In contrast, this year it seems like I’m prepared for every aspect of school - apart from soccer. Tearing my ACL in the winter makes this preseason intimidating in an entirely different way. It is definitely overwhelming to go into the season after having not played soccer in over 6 months. Any other athlete that has come back from an ACL (or any other serious injury) can sympathize with my fear of getting back on the field. However, I think the best part of going into this year, as opposed to last, is that I know that I have a great group of teammates and coaches and therefore I have the best support system anyone could have and they are really helping me get back.
I cannot tell what has gone by faster, this summer or my rehab? Although it now seems overly dramatic, at times it felt like I would never play again. Yet now I can finally see that light at the end of the tunnel - and it’s only getting brighter. It only took hundreds of hours of painful rehab, chasing down hundreds of over-kicked balls and a few tearful calls home but I’m finally almost playing again!! This makes the upcoming season all the more special to me and I can’t wait to get back on that field at Rudd. Of course there are still times of frustration, especially when it comes to getting back in shape. My “new” knee can still only take so much at any one time, which is a little disappointing because I’m use to being able to pushing myself much harder. It’s amazing how much damage 6 months and surgery can do. The road to getting back to soccer shape will definitely continue to be a difficult one going into preseason.
Two weeks ago my roommate Kristen and I got a small taste of being back on campus and in the college and soccer routine. We both helped out at the Matz Soccer Academy camp on the UMass campus and were able to get to know the next two incoming classes. Not only did we love the new girls but also realize that the potential for the future of the program is endless. Last year we did well; but every returner got a taste of the A-10 championship and I don’t think anyone will be satisfied until we finally bring that hardware back to Amherst! Likewise, we need to make sure that all the incoming players share the same goal and will commit themselves to helping us ALL reach it. The exciting and motivating thing about college soccer is that every year, every team and every schedule is different. No season is the same because players graduate and new players join the roster. This encourages you to improve your team by using the off-season to make yourself better and increase your role and the quality of your play.
It was really gratifying to be able to answer any questions the girls had about UMass soccer, the school’s academic rigors and campus social life. Kristen and I shared all of our college tips and even a few funny stories about the team and coaches. I think it was nice for them to hear that we do have a lot of fun - despite all the soccer we play. Some of my favorite memories of the year are during preseason where it was just us girls living together in the dorms where we were forced to find any form of entertainment we could. It’s safe to say we have watched almost every YouTube video and painted our nails every color imaginable. Preseason is tough, but it is also a great bonding time for the team and I expect the next 15 days to be no different.
A lot has changed since I entered preseason as a freshman, but now I know that I can survive it. I know what to expect when it comes to training and traveling and when it comes to juggling soccer, school and a social life. I was able to secure myself a spot on the team while doing well in school. I might have been injured a few times too many but I’ve also healed and learned what it takes to come back. Most importantly, I learned that the season and year fly by. I can’t believe that a year has passed and I’m already packing my things to go again. This year has a lot of potential and I know it will fly by fast, so I plan on cherishing every second of it.