Oct. 4, 2012
By Matthew Pearce, UGA Sports Communications
ATHENS, Ga. --- Through all the injuries sustained this season by the Georgia soccer team, the Bulldogs have found a positive in the most unlikely of places.
Coming into the season, rising sophomore Tori Cooper was excited about settling into the holding midfield role she had learned so much about as a freshman. Instead, she quickly found herself as Georgia’s go-to forward. Despite playing in the position at both high school and club level, Cooper never though she’d end up playing as a striker at Georgia.
“I thought this was the one place where I’m not going to evolve into a forward,” Cooper said. “They said they only saw me as a holding midfielder and that’s the position I grew up playing and I love playing.”
But after injuries to some of Georgia’s top forwards, head coach Steve Holeman switched from the experimental 4-3-3 formation the team used at the beginning of the season to a more traditional 4-4-2.
Cooper said she remembers the when the coaching staff announced the change.
“They pull out the paper and I’m literally shivering,” she said. “They start from the back reading the names. They say all the people in the back, then all the people in the midfield and my name wasn’t called. I thought, ‘Shoot, I’m not starting,’ and then they say Coop and Sooz (Dennis) up top. I thought I was dreaming.”
The night before the decision was made, Cooper remembers talking to her father, Steven, out in California, saying she thought the Bulldogs should switch to a 4-4-2. Steven told his daughter that if that was the case, he knew where she should play.
“My Dad always said to see if they’d put me up top for five minutes and I always said no,” Cooper said. “I called him the next day and said, ‘Dad, you’re not going to believe what happened.’ My Dad said, ‘Who’s the least surprised? Me. That’s where you belong.’”
After the move, the sophomore from Torrance, Calif., said she wasn’t going to be disappointed about not playing the position she loved. Instead, she decided to focus on making herself an even better forward and helping the team in whatever way she could.
“I thought, ‘Okay, I’m going to give it a 110 percent and give it my all,’” Cooper said. “I come out here early everyday and I work on shots with Dan (Blank). Then I have practice after that for another two hours. I get here at 1:45 p.m., I have just enough time to tape my ankle then I’m out here at 2:15 warming up for my 2:30 session. I’m out here from 2:15 to 5:30 working on shots and back to pressure and then we’ll do drills incorporated with the team.”
With Cooper’s hard work on display for the Bulldogs every weekend, rarely does she ever have a clean uniform at the end of the game. While she has only scored one goal this year, Cooper managed to fashion a career high 11 shots with 5 on goal against LSU.
Despite the improvements in her game, Cooper is still working on getting better against the toughest competition she has ever faced.
“College soccer is so different,” she said. “I’ve scored at club, I’ve scored a lot of goals in high school, but it’s just different,” Cooper said. “You’re going up against girls that have got four years of experience and they’ve been playing against the best players in the country. It’s a big thing that’s happening with me moving up to forward – it’s not that I can’t put the ball in the net; I just need to be composed.”
For the newly-minted attacker, the goals will come.