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Nov. 17, 2008

Captains’ Blog

Every Monday during the 2008 women’s soccer season, one of the three team captains visited to give an inside look into what it is like to be a South Carolina women’s soccer student-athlete. In today’s edition, Blakely Mattern provides the final blog of the year as she speaks about the program’s third NCAA Tournament berth. Visit the Captains’ Blog for previous stories told by senior Danila Monteiro and juniors Blakely Mattern and Kim Miller.

2178897.jpegDanila Monteiro 2155939.jpegBlakely Mattern 2155944.jpegKim Miller

November 17, 2008 – Blakely Mattern

Coming off the loss to Georgia last week in the SEC tournament, the team took some days off to recuperate and rethink about the season and everything we had been through and worked for. Unfortunately, because of the loss, we did not secure a spot in the postseason, and we now were in a waiting game. We would have to wait until Monday night for the NCAA committee to release the brackets for the tournament.

Going into Monday night, I have to be honest; I didn’t think we had a great chance of getting selected. I knew our team deserved it. We had worked so hard all season and offseason to get to the NCAA tournament. We played well all year and had some really good wins both in conference and non-conference. However, the committee was not as nice to us two years ago when we had the same record, so I was having my doubts about whether they would take us this year.

We had a short practice on Monday, where we all got together in the afternoon to kick around, play and have some fun to try to get our mind off of what was going to happen that night. We decided as a team to meet all together at Miller’s house to watch the show, thinking it would bring us luck. As I was driving over, all I was thinking about was I hope my gut feeling was wrong.

The show was scheduled to air from 8 to 8:30 pm, but the brackets could be released anytime during the half hour. We all gathered around the television waiting, and we kept waiting and waiting until finally around 8:25. We saw the College Cup symbol come on the screen and we knew this was the moment of truth. After the first two regions were revealed and our name had yet to be called, they went to a commercial break and I sat in the back of the room with my head in my hands. With teams such as Auburn, Marquette, and Boston University having already popped up, I thought our chances were all but dead.

But then everything changed when I saw South Carolina. I jumped out of my chair so fast, I’m not gonna lie, I got a little dizzy. But everyone else was going crazy too so it was okay. We all screamed so loud I think we woke up everyone in the neighborhood. Then we all got out our cell phones and called our parents and friends to share the good news.

After I calmed myself down and caught my breath, I breathed a big sigh of relief. This was something our team really deserved. We are one of the best teams in the country, I truly believe that, and it would be a real shame if we didn’t get the opportunity to prove that.

Now that we had the chance to play another day and show the country just how good a team we really are, we would have to prepare this week and work extra hard to get back on track. We practiced both Tuesday and Wednesday, working on keeping the ball under pressure and just playing our game. At this point, we did not care who the opposition was, but just that we were playing another game in the season and trying to improve everyday and do everything we can to go deep in the tournament.

On Thursday we headed out of Columbia for Durham, North Carolina. Duke University would host these first two rounds of the NCAA tournament. I personally have never been to Duke, so I was extra excited to see a new place.

We went straight to the field to have a short practice, getting some touches on the ball and working on some finishing. It was nice to get out of the bus, see the stadium, and run around for a while.

Friday was here, the day all of us had dreamed about forever and worked so hard for since the end of last season. After getting a taste of the NCAA tournament last year and coming up short of advancing to the second round by a couple PKs, as a team we worked so hard on the field to get back to this point. We knew coming in that we had a chance tonight to make history for our program with the first ever NCAA tournament win. All that being said, being excited and ready to go does not begin to describe what we were feeling at game-time.

Emotions were extremely high the first 10 minutes or so of the game. Both teams were running all over, trying to get some sort of rhythm established. After that, the game settled in and was pretty even throughout the first half. We gave up a set piece goal first, which is disappointing considering we knew that set pieces and corners were William & Mary’s best opportunities to score. However, our team would respond, as we did all year, with a goal before halftime. I headed a ball off their throw-in straight to Mills towards the corner of the 18-yard box. She then made a great turn and passed a beautiful ball through two defenders right to Brooke, who took one touch and buried the ball into the far side net. It was a great ball by Mils and a great shot by Brooke.

Going into halftime, we felt like we had the momentum and could come out strong and take this game in the second half. We thought we did just that when Dani scored about half way through. She took a great pass from Kayla and finished to the far post. It was an awesome goal, especially since she did not have the best angle to score. But she stepped up for us, like she has always done, and put away her chance.

Unfortunately, the game turned after our goal. The referee started to tighten up the game and began calling a lot more fouls, most of them on us. Our team knew that we did not want to give the other team set piece chances, as I said earlier, from inside half field because they had one player who could serve the ball 60 yards into our box. Some of the fouls called were questionable, including one that cost us the lead. Most of us believed the second goal to be a handball in the box by one of their forwards. Either way, we did not get the call and should have been tighter on defense. After the second goal was scored with little time remaining, we went into overtime.

I guess after we were unfortunate on the previous call, it would not be our night. Only a couple minutes into the period they scored on a header to end the game. We fought so hard and left everything we had out on the field. It is disappointing that we did not get the result, knowing that we had the lead, but I could not have asked anymore of my teammates.

I will tell you though the same thing I told the girls after the game. Other than our lone senior Dani, whose leadership, skill, and love of the game will be VERY much missed, next year everybody else would be returning. I told the team to remember this feeling and how much it hurt because we are a very good team and will return to the NCAA tournament next year where things will be different. We will gain nothing but experience from what happened and build on it for next year.

I know my team and I know how much they want to succeed and show the country how good we are. We will work this spring and all next summer to prepare for next season, where we will return and get our NCAA tournament win. I believe that and I know all my teammates would agree.

I am so proud of the team and what we have accomplished this season. From day one the desire and dedication has been there, at every practice, workout, and game. The attitude and chemistry surrounding this group of girls is outstanding and one that I would not trade for the world. I know good things are going to come both next year and in the future for this program.

I want to say one last thank you to my teammates and coaches for a great, memorable year. I love you guys! Also to everyone else involved in Carolina soccer, without you none of this would be possible. And last but not least, to the fans! You guys are awesome and make playing here at Carolina so special. Thank you for all your support. I hope to see everyone out at the graveyard next season as we look to bring home the program’s first SEC Championship!!!!