Reflecting on a senior soccer season
By Celia Balf
The thick, humid air of August seems like forever ago as I now layer up for the cold and take the tunnels to class.
In August, the University at Albany women’s soccer team was one of the few teams on campus a month before the rest of the student body, enduring the brutal yet necessary preseason. Earlier in the semester I wrote a piece about the “preseason experience”: the sweat, the commitment, the unavoidable tears and the excitement that overwhelms every athlete’s body as his or her season is about to begin. Now, I’m here—a slightly washed-up retiree trying to reflect on a season of my dreams.
In August our group was jittery, but the anticipation of a season ahead was able to carry out great soccer. Practices flowed nicely and we all felt like this was our year— it was something about the way that we could connect the ball to one another, laugh during warm-ups and then transition to being fully tuned in for a session. There would be ups and downs ahead like any season, but there was this clearness in the thick summer air. We were sure of our goal: to be America East Champions.
The next two months were a grind— we traveled to North Carolina for seven days beating Davidson and fell in overtime to Campbell. For our next games we traveled to Syracuse to play Colgate and Syracuse in one weekend. On paper, our first chunk of the season seemed difficult, but it just reassured us that come conference play we were going to dominate. It was the feeling of running beside a Syracuse player knowing that despite her noticeable difference in thigh muscle from mine, I could keep up with her. It was the feeling of making a tackle in the box and thinking I could just stay down right now and never get up, but I have to get up. It’s that feeling of Syracuse having to waste time in the last seven minutes because we were pressing them so hard. It was all of these feelings starting a fire that would burn through the fall season.
Our out of conference play was all over the place—we won some big games, and lost to some mediocre teams. Our head coach had a baby, and our assistant coach took over as associative head coach. Our starting goalkeeper got injured and had to sit out the rest of her senior season. The ups and downs came in waves.
The biggest wave, however, was the one that took us from a point where we may have not even made the post-conference tournament, to going all the way and winning the program’s first ever America East Championship. When I look at my teammates now I still get chills throughout my body from that championship game — we came back in a valiant effort to beat Hartford at their home turf 2-1. The moment the clock ran out our team embraced one another and screamed, cried and knew that everything up to that point was completely worth it. The dreaded beep test, the notoriously long SEBCO running test, the losses that made bus rides dreadful and awkward, the practices that ran rain or shine—all worth it. We will never get this one-in-a-million team back and I will hold onto that for the rest of my life. Few people can say they are champions, especially in college—but now, we can finally join the banner crew of so many other teams at UAlbany.
The scariest part is now. Soccer is done, and the retired life is too real. I miss the soreness of a long practice, I miss the feeling of sitting on the bus indulging in pizza after a hard-fought game, I miss losing myself in my sport with all of my teammates. These feelings will continue to be missed when the spring season comes along and Bob Ford Field is used once again by the Great Danes, absent the eight seniors I played beside for four years.