By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
ATHENS, Ga. – Throughout her life, former Georgia soccer standout Stephanie [Yarem] Ransom has always been a trailblazer.
In every venture she has pursued in the world of sport, Ransom has been a part of numerous firsts. Those unique accomplishments led to her being one of the pioneers of Southeastern Conference women’s soccer in the sport’s early days.
Ransom’s prep career included two years playing on the Gainesville [Ga.] High School boys’ team due to the absence of a team for girls at her school. That experience only fueled her competitive desire.
“We had all played with boys growing up,” Ransom said. “I don’t think I got a ton of playing time and probably a lot of my teammates were in the same situation I was. There are certain aspects of that you take away that might make you tougher, because the boys are faster and stronger than you are. You learn things that help you survive in that type of environment that can make you better and give you an advantage on an all women’s team.”
In the early 1990s, women’s soccer was beginning a meteoric rise. High schools across the southeast were taking notice and, once again, Ransom was at the heart of the movement as her school added a team for girls.
“There was a lot of interest at the time,” Ransom said. “Certainly Title IX played into it. Our high school coach at the time had also played soccer growing up and definitely always played on the boys’ team. With all the interest girls were having in the sport, there was a need for it. There was a big case to add a girls soccer program.”
When it was time for Ransom to attend college, the circumstances were perfect. In May 1994, Georgia hired Bill Barker, a highly successful coach at the University of Central Florida, to direct the brand-new Bulldog soccer program. Barker hit the recruiting trail full steam with Ransom as one of the recruits to his inaugural team.
“I had visited a couple of other places and when I actually came to campus to visit with the soccer coach and talk to the academic counselor at the time, I just really loved Athens and Georgia,” Ransom said. “It was probably half soccer-related and half because I liked the school. When I visited the university, I knew almost instantly that was where I wanted to be. It was everything there – the atmosphere of the school and the tradition of the school.”
Ransom was one of 18 freshmen along with one junior that filled out the very first Georgia soccer roster. Those 19 student-athletes would form the base of what would become the school’s next rich sports tradition.
“I wouldn’t have changed it for anything,” Ransom said. “That first year of the program, we were almost all freshmen. I think that helped us build a foundation and a pretty good one at that. We were all learning together and experiencing the same thing at the same time. We had one upperclassman and she definitely helped and guided us because she was more experienced. We enjoyed being out there together and made great friendships in the process.”
By the time Ransom was a junior, the Bulldogs had quickly advanced the program to a national level, earning the program’s first-ever berth to the NCAA Tournament – then just a 32-team field - and finishing the year with a 15-6-1 record.
That season, Ransom led the nation in match-winning goals with eight and established the Georgia single-season and career records for both points and goals. Fittingly, she was named the program’s first-ever All-American, being selected to the NSCAA First Team.
“It was a great honor being the first,” Ransom said. “Everything that I was able to accomplish was because of the people around me, whether it was my teammates serving me the perfect ball, or Coach teaching us in practice, or the pickup games that we did on our own. All of that contributed to everything I was able to accomplish.”
A year later in 1998 – a banner year for SEC soccer – Georgia advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16, falling to Dartmouth in the regional semifinal round. Ransom finished her career with 15 match-winning goals, a school record that still stands. She also finished with 28 career goals, which still ranks third in the program’s annals.
“Advancing to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament was probably the highlight,” Ransom said. “That was the best experience, just going through that process, qualifying and then making it that far. It was just a great experience.”
In that 1998 season, the University of Florida claimed the NCAA Championship, the first for the conference in the sport of soccer. That accomplishment, Ransom said, helped pave the way for future SEC soccer success.
“There was a commitment made up front to add this sport to all these institutions and that right there helped catapult us onto the scene,” Ransom said. “Certainly, Florida winning the national championship that year helped SEC soccer in general. People were starting to understand, even though the SEC teams are young, they’ll be competitive and this is what they can do if given the opportunity.”
As her playing career was coming to a close, Ransom was focused on finishing her BBA in marketing. She also began working in the business office of Georgia’s athletics department to gain practical experience. That look into the inner workings of collegiate athletics would pave the way for a successful career in athletics administration.
“I became familiar with its process and what, exactly, it deals with,” Ransom said. “It caught my interest and I just wanted to stay in there. Knowing what it takes as a student-athlete, to see the other side and everything that’s involved in that, it is probably more than people would think. Learning the other side really interested me.”
Ransom is now Georgia’s assistant athletics director for business operations, managing the day-to-day operations of the department’s finances. She also serves as the sport facilitator for soccer and softball, acting as the administrative liaison to those sports.
Ransom feels that her experiences as a student-athlete have benefitted her in multiple ways as an athletics administrator.
“Certainly there are skills that you learn from participating in team sports that can transfer over into anything,” Ransom said. “In what I’m doing now, I have the perspective of a student-athlete, so it helps me balance my opinions and thoughts. Things have changed since I played, so I may not completely understand what they are going through, but I have been through something similar. It helps in that aspect, as well as the skills I’ve learned from being part of a team that translate into everyday life.”
While her involvement with soccer may have moved from the field to the sidelines, Ransom is encouraged by what she sees, and by the potential of collegiate soccer.
“It just continues to get more and more competitive,” Ransom said. “Soccer has grown tremendously, specifically women’s soccer, over the past 10 years. There are more people involved, the pool of players has increased and the depth of players has increased, so it’s just becoming more and more competitive.”
Ransom was proud to have been one of the lead architects of Georgia’s soccer program and appreciates the opportunity to be an advocate for the program moving into the future.
“There is a lot of pride,” Ransom said. “I think if you ask any one of the girls at any institution at the time, we all think we hopefully laid the foundation. We are part of that process and it’s definitely a point of that pride.”