By Daniel Whitehead
BUENA VISTA, Va.—A long-standing tradition of success continued in 2013 for the Southern Virginia University women's soccer team.
Entering their first season in the ultra-competitive Capital Athletic Conference, the Knights could have easily been intimidated by what was to come each week in the league and given up from the start. Instead, the team proved to hold its own even against the conference's top teams and ended up with a respectable 3-5-1 record in CAC play.
The feat did not go unnoticed by Director of Soccer Matt Grawrock or the team.
"The team discovered that we belong in this conference," Grawrock said. "We realized that if we fix a few things here and there we can be competitive in the league and fight for a top spot in the future. The girls never sat down and thought, 'Wow, they are so much better than us.'
"We now know that if we play well in conference and play with a belief in ourselves, there is no reason that we can't be successful in conference. I couldn't have asked for more from this first year's team and we answered some questions everyone had about us."
Grawrock has built a system of success with the women's soccer program as he became Southern Virginia's all-time leader in career victories with 53. He broke the former best mark of 49 wins held by Joe Bouchelle, who served as head coach from 1999 through 2002. Grawrock tied the mark in a 7-0 victory over Penn State Harrisburg on Sept. 28 and broke the record with a 7-0 win over Fisher College on Oct. 11.
The Knights were rewarded for a successful season by participating in a small postseason tournament hosted by Illinois Tech in Chicago, Ill., providing an opportunity for provisional NCAA Division III members like Southern Virginia to lengthen their season and gain experience in a postseason atmosphere. The Knights defeated Illinois Tech by a 2-0 score on Friday, Nov. 8 before falling to Nebraska Wesleyan in the championship match, 1-0, in double overtime the following day.
"We wanted the girls to have something to build on for next year," Grawrock said. "It was an opportunity for the underclassmen to experience postseason play. It was also a nice reward for a season of hard work and a chance to keep the season going. It was also a great team-building opportunity and something the girls could enjoy after the regular season.
"The girls got a little taste of what a postseason is and will work hard to try to have that opportunity next season. Hopefully we get to the point that it is an expectation to make the postseason."
"We had some great veteran leadership this season and we'll certainly miss what they brought to the team," Grawrock said. "I think one thing they helped instill in the system is that no one is bigger than the team, and I think the girls returning next year and beyond have a good sense of this because of the example of our seniors. We were very blessed to have those five helping us out this year."
Palmer led the team in several categories for the year to achieve All-CAC Second Team honors and was also named a USCAA Second Team All-American. On Sept. 30 she was named the CAC Offensive Player of the Week after scoring five goals between the Washington Adventist and Penn State Harrisburg games.
The Alpine, Utah native also earned three assists for a total of 13 points for the week. She tied for first on the team in goals this season with 12 and distributed the ball well to teammates en route to a team-best eight assists on the year for a total of 32 points. As a forward, she earned 35 shot attempts on the season, including 21 on goal, and had one game-winning goal against Fisher College.
Freshman Tatiana Monsen tied Palmer for the lead in goals scored with 12 for the year while also adding an assist and registering 59 shot attempts. Two of her goals were game winners. Lytle was third on the team with four goals scored with freshmen Kora Jewell and Reilly Anderson contributing three apiece.
"We have a strong group coming back next year," Grawrock said. "We had a lot of girls gain significant playing experience this season that will really benefit them next year. We have players who understand what we're trying to accomplish. The future bodes well because everyone is on board with what is expected and we have the experience from this season."
Another strong characteristic of a Grawrock-led team is strong academics as eight were named to the USCAA All-Academic team. Those named include Bryndel Lytle, Meghan Blackham, Alicia Blackham, Randi Cline, Zoe Bradshaw, MaKenzie Cox, Lora Palmer and Victoria Slade.