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Nov. 2, 2008

The South Carolina women’s soccer team has earned the fifth seed in the Southeastern Conference Tournament and will face fourth-seeded Georgia Wednesday, Nov. 5 at 8:30 p.m (ET). in the quarterfinal match. The SEC Tournament is held at the Orange Beach Soccer Complex in Orange Beach, Ala., as the Gamecocks look to advance past the quarterfinal round for the third consecutive season. had the chance to meet up with senior captain Danila Monteiro, the lone senior on the squad. Monteiro talks about coming to America from Brazil, overcoming language differences and injuries, and what it was like to join the Gamecocks after winning a national championship at Young Harris Junior College (Ga.). When did you start playing soccer and why?
Danila Monteiro: I started playing soccer when I was six years old. All that I had in my room was soccer balls. I didn’t have any dolls. That was amazing because in my pictures when I was young I had all these scratches on my face. I was kind of like a little boy. I played soccer because it’s the number one sport in Brazil and I wanted to prove to everybody that I could make my dream come true of playing.

How long were you in America before going to junior college?
I came to America when I was 17. I went to Florida and stayed with a family. I just wanted to see if the weather was like what I wanted. I stayed for two months. When I went back to Brazil, I graduated and had a long talk with my mom. She asked me if I wanted to go (back to America). If you want to go I support you, and I chose to go.

If I didn’t go to Young Harris I would probably have stayed in Brazil. It’s hard as an international to come and have an opportunity to play. They choose a few players to come and compete, and Brazil is huge. I was one of the picks and was like, `Yes, I can show how great I can play now!’

Was it difficult adjusting to things here and being away from home?
The language was the biggest challenge. I didn’t know English. I was in the middle of all these crazy Americans speaking so fast and I was like `Oh my gosh! I can’t understand anything.’ I went to class and had to control myself to not cry because I didn’t know anything. Even in practice the coach had to demonstrate for me. My teammates helped me too, and I had a dictionary with me. It was a challenge for maybe six months. Once I started getting the language I got excited because once I could understand people, it meant everything to me.

What do you miss most about Brazil?
The weather! The weather is so much hotter than here , 365/24/7. When I came here I was confused. For a little bit we have good weather and then for no reason it’s raining and it’s cold. Then I couldn’t breathe so well so I had to warm up before everybody because my muscles and my body weren’t used to it. Plus I miss my family a lot. I haven’t seen them in over two years because of my injuries (and rehab).

You suffered an injury at Young Harris. What was it and how did it happen?
I remember it like it was yesterday. We were at an indoor tournament. It wasn’t a big deal. I was playing and I got tackled from behind where my knee stuck on the turf. I hadn’t had an injury before so I didn’t know what it was. They put ice on my knee and it was fine; I was walking on it but I couldn’t play. I still couldn’t figure it out. They said I had to have surgery and that was tough for me. I put in my mind that I had to do it and that my dream was to come up to Division I soccer. I had to be positive to put everything in that I could to be the player I was before. People say things happen for a reason. I think it was a good reason because after that I was so strong. We won the national championship, and I scored the game-winning goal. I was so excited and didn’t even know that (South Carolina Assistant Coach) Mat (Cosgriff) was watching.

How did you get through it?
It was tough. I went from doing very well to being able to do nothing. I realized that only I could do this. It was my goal and dream to be at a Division I college. But it was like “Welcome to the United States” and then, boom, my knee. I was here for maybe seven months. Afterwards they told me to put on a brace and I trusted to the coach so I did.

What got you interested in South Carolina?
I didn’t know about it. I was at Junior College and it was great. I was there; I was learning and enjoying myself. Then I realized it was my sophomore year and I had to move on. I started to panic. I felt like, `Where do I go?’ Worst comes to worse, I go back to Brazil and go to my family and the beautiful weather and I’d be fine. Once the season ended, I played well and my head coach stopped me to say I have the opportunity to go to South Carolina. I was like, `South Carolina, where is that?’ I didn’t know anything about it. She told me that (former Young Harris transfer) Darcel Mollon was there and that I could do that. I had it in my mind, but I still didn’t see the difference. All my teammates were saying to me, `Oh my gosh, you’re going to be a Gamecock. That’s awesome!’ and all I could think was, is it a big deal? I wasn’t sure about what was this huge university. Then Mat talked to me and told me if I wanted to come I could visit early in January. I started to visit the website and watch things and I chose South Carolina because I want to be on the team that wins the SEC title. I don’t want to go to a place like Florida or North Carolina that wins so many (championships) and I’m just another person. I want to be the player that helps to win the first one. I’m so glad that I’m here now, and coming to South Carolina was the best decision I’ve ever made.

Your first game here you beat #1 North Carolina at their place. What were you thinking after that game as far as this team and what it could accomplish?
I didn’t know that we were playing against THE North Carolina, the 20-time national championship team. Maybe it was because I didn’t have the knowledge about what team we were playing. The coaches put me in and I was like, `Alright I can do it, I can be the forward.’ Then we won and everybody was jumping around. I just sat down because I didn’t know how to react. I didn’t figure it out and here comes Ashley Kirk like, `We won Dani!’ Then she sat down with me and started telling me everything and I started going crazy. I was so glad because at one point I had an injury and didn’t even know if I could play again. When I got on the bus I was so crazy that people wanted to pull me off the bus. Then I realized that it was THE game. People were calling me and that’s when I figured out how big that game was.

Last year you injured your leg on Halloween, two days before the Florida game. How was it sitting out that game and the SEC tournament and NCAA’s after doing so well during the year?
That’s why I hate Halloween. I won’t lie, I don’t celebrate Halloween. I was so excited about the Florida game. Everything took me back to my first ACL injury. The only question was like, `Why right now?’ (The injury) could have been after Florida. I couldn’t travel and had to sit back, but I prayed for the team and had surgery. I was there for the team and supported them, but I thought maybe this happened for a reason. Maybe the team is winning because I’m out. Maybe if I was there we might not have beaten Tennessee in the first round. It was tough. I cried at night with Kirk. She was so excited after the SEC Tournament. I was proud to be one of the 22 players to go to the NCAA game.

Your best friend was teammate Ashley Kirk. Why were you two such great friends?
We click. It’s just our personalities. We’re so spontaneous and happy and positive. Once I came here it was like “boom”. She taught me so many things. Every time we went somewhere, we went there together. On the field all I could do is just help her and the team. I didn’t think about me at anytime. She’s a great player too. I considered her my sister because off the field we clicked so well. Last year she was a leader and I watched everything she did. Now I’m in that position and I’m a leader.

She escorted you at Senior Day last week. Is it hard knowing your mom can’t come see you play?
It’s tough. She’s scared of airplanes so I’m not making her come here. She was at home and watched. Just like last year, she was at home and partied with my family and was so happy. On the other hand, I have this great family with my teammates. I couldn’t have picked better people than her and my boyfriend Paul to walk me out.

Heading into this year as the only senior, did you have any goals set for yourself or the team?
For myself to be healthy, haha. I want to win an SEC title. I’m pretty sure my teammates want the same things. We are so happy that we made it. Now we have to prove to ourselves that we are SEC champions.

Just four games into the year you suffered a concussion against Clemson. Do you remember that game at all or what happened?
I was out! I remember I started and played well. I remember jumping and this girl kicking the ball so hard. All of a sudden I couldn’t’ do anything. All I could see was people everywhere. My ears were sensitive, I couldn’t see straight and I was dizzy. I remember (Athletic Trainer) Stephanie (Rosehart) talking to me asking if I was alright, and I said I could play. Shelley asked me if I was alright, and I said yeah I could play. I couldn’t see straight. The doctor walked me off the field and he was talking so slow it seemed. My brain wasn’t working right. The team then went out and we scored, but I couldn’t remember that. I wasn’t me. People said it looked like I was on medication because I’m normally so loud but I just stood there quiet. I can’t remember anything.

Not long after against Western Carolina you got injured again. What went through your mind after that game and finding out you’d miss a lot of the season?
I knew right at the beginning when she tackled me that I tore my meniscus. Secondly I was in shock. I couldn’t believe it. I had no words for anybody. I didn’t want to be around anybody. I just couldn’t believe it happened to me, but at the same time I knew I couldn’t turn my back on this team, on this family, the fans, coaches and myself. I talked to Doctor Guy and Stephanie, and they proved to me that I could come back in two weeks. I put in my mind that I could and I knew that everytime I put it in my mind that I could come back that I would. The heart I have for this team, I don’t think anyone has one like it. If you put every player together, their heart together can’t equal mine for this team. I love this team and I love my coaches.

What do you want to do when you leave here?
That’s a question everyone asks me and I don’t know. I wish I could be a professional soccer player. I wish I had the opportunity for just one year to see what it’s like to be a professional soccer player. I’ve gone through so many things. I’ve battled injuries, I’ve battled language, I’ve battled so many things that people have no idea about. However, if it’s not for me, it’s fine. I have my national championship ring that I always wear. If I can’t play, I’ll step back and be a coach. I’ll teach someone that’s five years old to have the passion with their heart to be a good player.