Four years ago, nine women came to North Greenville University (NGU) as freshman embarking on a journey. These young women were beginning a new life dealing with many situations they had never dealt with before; they were becoming college athletes. These nine girls were coming to a newplace, starting college and meeting new teammates. All of these things would be difficult enough on their own, but adding all these pieces together created a new chapter in each of these girls’ lives. With the Crusaders heading into the NCCAA South Regional Tournament this coming weekend, the athletic chapter of their lives may come to a close, or it could continue on to the NCCAA Nationals in Orlando, Fla. in a few weeks.
Nine women soccer players began as freshman in the fall of 2006. Now completing their fourth year of school and soccer seasons, there are only four left. The seniors are goalkeeper Jessica Binkley (Simpsonville, SC), midfielder Beth Morgan (Asheville, NC) the team’s chaplain, midfielder and captain Kaeleigh Meara (Greenville, SC), and forward Danielle Duff (Poca, WV). The other players have departed NGU for different reasons. Some of the women stayed at NGU but did not want the time commitment involved in college athletics, and others went to different schools to pursue other endeavors. The women who stayed have experienced wins and losses, a coaching change, players coming and going, and three of the four have had one or more surgeries directly related to the sport they play. With all of these obstacles, the soccer program has seen tremendous growth in the past four years.
The women’s soccer program at NGU has developed incredibly over the past four years. These women came to the women’s soccer program during a time when they had never had a winning season. The 2006 season was one of the best seasons for the program experiencing only four wins. Everyone hoped to keep progressing and get better the next season, but that did not happen. The 2007 season looked like an impossible season to overcome. The women’s soccer team’s record that year was 2-10-2. Six of those ten loses were in overtime. That left the women’s team defeated mentally and physically. During this time, however, the coaching staff and players on the team had a huge benefactor on their side -- God. The team prayed before every practice and tried to maintain their testimonies on the field to play hard, but fair and never lose their composure. The only place to go from there was up, and they were determined to beat the odds.
The 2008 season brought change with a new coach. Jesse McCormick, previously the assistant coach, was promoted to the head spot. Jesse was starting his first year as head coach of a college program. New recruits came, other players left, but the four women from the 2006 freshman class stayed to start their junior season. The season started off rocky when their first game against Lees-McRae ended with a loss, despite NGU leading at half. They bounced back unbelievably though. Their season ended with a record of 11 and 5, which was a record-setting season for women’s soccer. This was the best win/ loss record of the university that year in any of its 13 athletic programs.
The 2009 season began with a new feeling around the team. Instead of trying to fight their way to the top, the Crusader women now felt the pressure to maintain the winning like they had the season before. Their team scripture verse, which they recited after every practice and before every game is 1 Corinthians 10:31. It states, “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” They also have devotionals during practices and before some games. Coach McCormick is trying to shape his players into more than just soccer players, and realize the bigger picture is to stay focused on God. The regular season ended with a record of 11-7. NGU defeated Truett-McConnell College 1-0 in a NCCAA regional play-in game Nov. 17, and they Crusaders hope to get past the regional tournament in Georgia Nov. 20-21 and advance to the national tournament in December.
To the four seniors that are still here, this is astonishing. The NGU women’s soccer program has come a long way in a short amount of time. Their dedication to the program over the past four years has consisted of their time, body and minds. They have had four pre-seasons and three post seasons which included six a.m. practices, weight training and individual training sessions. They also experienced many long days of traveling to games, which consisted of them missing classes and by the end of their senior year will have a combined total of eight surgeries. Jessica Binkley and Beth Morgan are both Health and Wellness majors, while Kaeleigh Meara and Danielle Duff are majoring in Sport Management. They have all been very successful academically and had a huge impact on the growth of the soccer program.
The NGU program has been highly complimented by opposing teams over the past four years as one of the most improved. The celebrated hope is that the team will keep progressing in the years to come and establish a reputation as not only a winning program, but one who promotes the University’s mission of “Where Christ Makes the Difference.”