Aug 26, 2013
The following is the second installment of a biweekly blog that senior Madeline (Maddy) Barker is penning for the Georgia soccer team during the 2013 season. Her blogs will be published exclusively on Georgiadogs.com.
By Maddy Barker
A season full of lasts…
As I sit here on the plane coming home from our weekend in Texas, I realize this was my last “first - big” travel weekend. We traveled to California my freshman year, Minnesota my sophomore year, and Kansas my junior year. We are fortunate to have these travel weekends as they give the players a chance to get to know each other better and play solid non-conference teams to prepare us for our SEC competition. This year’s trip was like the others: filled with lots of laughter, memory making, and of course, some brilliant moments strung together on the field. We left the soccer complex early Thursday morning and headed to the Atlanta airport. Typically everyone sleeps on this early morning bus ride, but strangely enough, the seniors, who always claim seats towards the back of the bus, were unusually talkative. I think we all subconsciously knew that this was one of those “last” moments, and we were going to make the most of it. My seatmates on the plane were starting center back, senior Torri Allen and Coach Dan Blank. This plane ride was certainly a learning experience. For those of you who don’t know Dan on a personal level, he is freakishly smart. His mind works in mysterious ways and after three years of him being my coach, I still learn something new about him or from him regularly. He is deeply intellectual and extremely witty. Dan was working on the crossword puzzle found in the back of the Sky Miles magazine and finished it before the flight was halfway over. Three days later Torri and I are still not finished with the same puzzle. Dan did his best to help us, but we were still incapable of filling in even the “easy” ones by ourselves.
We finally landed in Austin, Texas and the weekend began. With a productive practice under our belts, we were off to Carrabba’s, a fan favorite of these girls. Team dinners with this group are always entertaining, and the amount of bread that is consumed is almost embarrassing. But hey, we had two big games this weekend… we needed to carb up, right? With full tummies, it was off to bed. We had a big day ahead of us.
We woke up Friday morning and had breakfast in the lobby, followed by our jog and stretch at the hotel. Just because we are missing classes, we aren’t excused from the responsibilities of school. When on the road, most girls spend hours and hours studying, doing homework, reading ahead or catching up on missed notes from class. A student-athlete’s life is demanding, but it’s so worth the extra effort it takes. The realization that game time is approaching hits players at different times during the day. For some girls, the nerves began as we were leaving our pregame meal at Panera. For a few others, it hit at our scouting report in the hotel, and for the last few of us, like me, it’s when we load the bus to leave for the game. That is when my mind is completely focused on our mission. On our bus on the way to games everyone has headphones and is in the “zone.” I like to visualize myself scoring goals just as I know Caitlin Woody envisions herself making phenomenal saves. Unfortunately, we did not get the result we were looking for on Friday night, but Texas was a worthy opponent. Our team learned a good bit from that game, and by taking the good and the bad things we did in that game, we knew what we needed to do against Houston on Sunday. After the game, I was a bit teary for a moment, just knowing that I’ll never play this team again, and this was one game closer to my career being over.
One of the cool things about the Bulldog Nation is how many fans we find at our games who don’t necessarily have any ties to this team. I met a family Friday night who drove three hours from Dallas to Austin to watch us play. The parents are both originally from Atlanta and attended the University of Georgia and have brainwashed… er, indoctrinated their daughters to be Bulldog fans. Their oldest daughter, Ansley, would like to be a soccer dawg herself one day - I hope she fulfills that dream! I would highly recommend it! It is so comforting to see how many soccer parents and fans we have who make the trips to watch us play. Summer Burnett’s dad came all the way from Hawai’i to see her first official collegiate games. After all these years, our parents are still making the sacrifices of time and money to watch their girls play a kid’s game. It is also not unusual for our players to know girls on the opposing teams. It is rare not to find a connection no matter where we are in the country. Being from Texas, Meghan (Gibbons) had friends who she played club or high school soccer with on both UT and UH, and Laura Eddy even had a childhood friend who now lives in Houston who came to see her play in Sunday’s game. Also in attendance at Sunday’s game was our own former student trainer, Kelly Eggers, who lives and works in Texas. Last year she came out to our game against A&M and it was great to see her again… once a Bulldog, always a Bulldog!
Saturday was highlighted with a special lunch date arranged by Meghan Gibbons’ parents at their beautiful home in The Woodlands. The Gibbons’ opened their house to our team and gave us a place to just lounge in a comfy setting for a little while, while feeding us a delicious lunch. It is a good thing that they are seasoned veterans when it comes to hosting a crowd… when we travel, there are players, coaches, a trainer, a manager, our very own Sports Information couple, Kevin and Kate, and a bus driver – that is 34 in all! It was very relaxing and just nice to be around family for a little while on this road trip. Shout out to Melissa and Jim Gibbons for having us. Thank you!
After lunch, we had practice on Houston’s field where Sunday’s game would be played. We prepared both mentally and tactically for how we were going to execute on Sunday. The UH game result was more of what we had in mind for the weekend, and we came away with a 2-0 win over the Cougars. Nikki Hill, my roomie, dropped a bomb from about midfield that bounced right over the keeper’s head scoring UGA’s first goal for the season. It was a beauty. Freshman Rachel Garcia also got her first collegiate goal after firing one right past the keeper. We had a bunch of other scoring opportunities and I was extremely proud of the way our team played. We have so many talented players on this roster, so expectations are high.
Although I know we still have quite a few away games, and several more traveling weekends, this one was special. I am always anxious to get back Athens after a road trip. After all, Athens is our home away from home. We are grateful to have our day off on Monday, but starting Tuesday, the only thing on our mind will be how good it’s going to feel beating Mercer on Friday night under the lights.