By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Throughout its 20-year history, the sport of soccer in the Southeastern Conference has been in a class of its own. Great moments and great student-athletes have defined the league.
Consider this – the SEC boasts:
• One national championship
• Two national semifinal appearances
• Seventy-nine NCAA Tournament appearances
• Six former players who have made 10 Olympic Games appearances.
But the on-field numbers serve only to tell a portion of the tale. The real story lies in the hearts of the student-athletes who juggle full schedules filled with three main areas of concentration: sports, education and community.
Make no mistake about it, the SEC’s achievements on the soccer field are second to none. Since the inception of the sport in 1993 when the league had had just four institutions that sponsored soccer to today’s 14-team conference featuring a week-long neutral-site tournament in Orange Beach, Ala., that receives live national television coverage, the vision has always been the same.
“I thought we would be competitive because that’s just the nature of the SEC,” said Roy Kramer, SEC Commissioner from 1990-2002. “One of the great strengths of the SEC is that when they sponsor a sport, they sponsor it at a national level, and that was certainly true when soccer was added. I think we may have surprised people nationally because they didn’t realize the level of commitment, facilities, recruiting and things of that nature. Within our conference, we felt that we would be competitive very shortly.”
But what lies inside those wins?
There are players who perform in the clutch, like Tennessee’s Hannah Wilkinson who, as a member of the New Zealand National Team, scored a goal during stoppage time in the 2011 World Cup to give her home country its first-ever point in World Cup competition.
There are players who courageously battle through a pair of ACL injuries and miss two seasons of collegiate competition, but never lose faith and come back in their redshirt senior year to lead their team like Georgia’s Laura Eddy.
And then, there is a different kind of courage - the kind that tests a player in the depths of her heart, like the loss of a mother to cancer during one’s collegiate playing days. That’s the story of Kentucky’s Arin Gilliland.
How about Auburn’s Tori Ball, who took a trip to South Africa during her spring break to help direct after-school sports programs and physical education classes to young students living in extreme poverty?
Just look at the alumni who have come through SEC soccer programs. Alabama’s Amy Pseja was one of the early trailblazers of the sport and now enjoys a career as director of a rehabilitation program in a skilled nursing facility. Kentucky’s Anne Ogundele, the 2006 SEC Tournament MVP, now works as a physical therapist. Georgia’s Stephanie Yarem Ransom is now the soccer sport administrator and an Assistant Athletics Director at her alma mater.
“Thinking back to the time when I was deciding where I wanted to go to school, I didn’t realize how important the conference would become to me,” said U.S. Olympian and Florida soccer alum Abby Wambach. “But when I got to the University of Florida, I realized the SEC was such a foundation of who we were. The SEC title was the thing that we wanted. In some ways, the SEC is its own kind of team. It was the family that we were a part of.”
These SEC soccer student-athletes have seized an opportunity and are the focus of a new conference-wide campaign highlighting those athletes who Shine in the Moment in the areas of academics, athletics and community service.
Each week during the SEC soccer regular season, the SEC Digital Network will highlight student-athletes on each of the 14 league soccer teams who Shine in the Moment in any number of ways.
You know the story of their successes on the field, but the SEC Digital Network will provide insight to the makeup of a champion throughout the 2013-14 academic year and, specifically, for the next seven weeks when it comes to SEC soccer.
The 2013 season will culminate in Orange Beach, Ala., for the 10th time in league history with the SEC Soccer Tournament Nov. 4-10.