Making the Grade While Making Saves
Goalie Tracy Griffin, #2 nationally in saves
WAXAHACHIE, Texas -- Easily the world's most popular, most viewed, most played and most attended sport is soccer. The game also generates more revenue than all of the others. Anyone who has watched the World Cup recognizes the incredible passion with which the fans of futball (American soccer) express their affection for their favorite player or chosen teams.
While the game has not enjoyed the same following in the United States, it continues to thrive on the amateur level through college.
For Southwestern Assemblies of God University's Tracy Griffin, soccer is not just a game. It carries a strong devotion and purpose.
Griffin, the Lady Lions goal-keeper the past three seasons, recently ended her collegiate career as SAGU's all-time leader in games played, wins, shutouts (6) and saves. In fact, she led the Red River Athletic Conference in saves in 2010. She averaged a whopping 11.75 per game.
A native of Wylie, Texas, the effervescent Griffin stood out like a kingpin in a bowling alley. She could be seen shouting encouragement to SAGU defenders, barking out coverage assignments, always a vocal and emotional lightning rod on a young team.
Her senior effort ranked her #2 in the nation in rejections, trailing only Berea College's Katie Downey. Berea, located south of Lexington, Kentucky, endured an 0-16 season that saw them outscored 86-3.
Griffin made 188 saves in 16 games, including four outings with 20 or more stops. Team Lioness also had a rough 1-15-1 campaign, scoring seven times while surrendering 58. Serving as the physical backstop and last line of defense, Griffin was kept busy by a leaky defense.
The goalie who donned the #1 jersey was the leader on a team that surrendered 3.4 goals per game. She posted one shutout, blanking Southwestern College (Ks) 2-0. Four times this season Griffin suffered defeats by the slimmest of scores, falling 1-0. Yielding two goals on four occasions led to three 2-1 setbacks and a 2-2 tie. In eight of the sixteen games she played this year she allowed two goals or less.
She also registered an 8-0 whitewashing of Southwestern Adventist University (Tx), a game the NAIA later negated when the SWAU team couldn't finish the season with enough healthy players.
She remains the only Lady Lions goalie to post a shutout.
Increasing the pressure on the netminder was an offense that failed to score in twelve of the team's 17 games. Still, she battled like a fearless badger.
As a junior she averaged 5.08 per game, which was second best in the RRAC. In her first year between the pipes she had a breakout season. In her sophomore debut, Griffin prevented 7.11 shots from reaching the net, a norm that rated #30 in the NAIA and #2 in the Red River.
That is 382 stops in 47 career games over three years. The women's soccer program at Southwestern has only been in existence since 2006, and Griffin has been one of the Lady Lions standout performers.
Making the Grades
Griffin, whose cheery disposition belies her gritty work ethic, was able to achieve her athletic success while making the Dean's List during six semesters.
Her first autumn on campus was bittersweet. She never missed a practice or a game, but was forced to redshirt due to a fractured leg that required surgery.
Resilient Badger: "Never Give Up!"
Griffin's battle cry was as old as it was motivational: Never Give Up!
"There was a few times where I just wanted to quit. I felt like an awful goalkeeper because we would lose almost every game," she said in a recent interview. "My confidence went down a lot, and I didn't like that feeling. But I knew I was placed at this school for a reason."
"God gave me talent to play, and a drive to play to use it best, even if we lost every single game. People would often tell me, "It's just a game." But it was not just a game to me! It's a passion and a love that I have. I don't just play it just to play it. I play it because I'm in love with the game! It is a great game!"
She sat down after the season to review her experience in establishing SAGU's women's soccer program. Griffin spoke glowingly of her coaches, teammates, about the progress the team achieved, and lessons learned while on the soccer pitch (field).
Tracy Griffin: Q & A
Q: Who were your head coaches at Southwestern?
TG: Well, when I came the program had only been two years old. It was coached by Jeremy Tosaya until my junior year. Tim Grant took over and finished out being my coach for my last two years.
Q: How about influential coaches prior to college?
TG: I played at Wylie High School (Class 5A) in the North Dallas school district. I also played for a very good club team, the Dallas Texans '88. They were very successful. I am an 89'er (year of birth), so I played a year up (against older players). It definitely had its challenging moments, but we did pretty well.
The coach I learned the most from was my personal goalkeeper coach, Paul Hason. He's from Czechoslovakia and is currently the SMU goalkeeping coach. He was a great and taught me everything! Also, my Texans coach, Jimmie Lankford, made a great impact on my soccer life.
Q: What made you want to play goalie?
TG: When I was 9 years old, our goalkeeper got hurt, so I volunteered to go in. I don't know what I was thinking! A ball came my way, and I tackled it! Ever since then I was nominated to be the keeper for teams.
I went to a soccer camp when I was 13, training with other goalkeepers. That camp sparked my career and equipped me to become a lot better. I have played soccer for 15 years now, and 12 years have been at goalie. The camps, the coaching and experience helped me to improve and hone my skills. They instilled a strong drive to want to play well.
Q: Summarize each of your seasons at Southwestern.
TG: My freshman year was when I broke my leg and had surgery.
I got to play every game in my sophomore season. I wrote down the teams we would play and the scores from each game from the previous year. I was determined not to yield as many goals as we did the year before. I did just that. We had two wins, and I had two shutouts that year. Both were firsts for SAGU.
As a junior – it was the same story, different year. My goal again was to let in fewer goals against the teams we played the previous years. With a few exceptions, we accomplished just that.
That year was the best year SAGU Women's Soccer has had. Between Mandy Fortner and Grant, they really helped this team so much. We won four games that year and only got "killed" by two good teams. We held our own, defensively. We were pretty solid. We lacked offense. The games were all very close; 2-1, 1-0, even 0-0. Scores like that. We all played well together.
My senior year - at the beginning, I was so excited about this new team! We had some great players who really knew the game. We had speed for the offense, and as well for the defense.
But some unexpected things happened. We lost some key players, especially due to grades and injuries. That hurt us a bit. Plus, we struggled with inconsistency.
We started playing a new formation that didn't work out as well as we had hoped. People were switched to different positions, so it required a lot of adjusting. Injuries then forced players to be moved again. Personally, I started and ended every game, except one (torn hip-flexor).
The new girls were so awesome though, and I'm really excited for them and the team next year! I know it will be a lot different with new players coming in. Plus, the coaching is solid.
Q: How would describe the development of the women's soccer program?
TG: This team has improved SO much!!! The year before arriving on campus, I kept up with the scores and saw a few games. SAGU Women's Soccer is NOTHING like that team 5 years ago. We have a strong defense and offense compared to our early years. Little mistakes really hurt us. But those can be fixed, and they will be.
Five years into the program there are still plenty of things that need attention, but they will get better. This year's scores didn't show that we got better from previous years, but the players individually made a lot of strides!
Q: How has college soccer benefitted you personally? Spiritually?
TG: Coming from a winning school and club team, it was so hard to come here and lose so often. I am a very competitive person and I despise losing. I still hate it. But my years here really helped adjust my pride and taught me to be humble.
My prayer has always been to represent Christ on and off the field. When pride walks on the field, God walks off. I strived to live by that truth.
God is the reason we were on that field to begin with. Our attitude always relect who we are. It is so important to me that God's light shines through me - on or off the field.
Q: How did college soccer add to your educational experience at Southwestern?
TG: It made me stay really focused. It's hard playing college soccer and being a full-time student, especially when you get to your upper level classes. This year we had plenty of road games, so I stayed determined and focused to stay on track.
I honestly believe if I hadn't play soccer, I wouldn't have strived as hard to be the student I am now.
Q: Your thoughts about Head Coach Tim Grant and Assistant Coach Mandy Fortner?
TG: Coach Grant has coached a number of sports, and his knowledge of soccer grew in the past two years. I am grateful for him. He worked so hard to motivate us! He's a great man of God, with a crazy, but funny, personality! He always makes practices and bus rides really fun!
He has done such a great job with us, and I am really going to miss him! Coach Grant was most known for this singing this, very loudly: "He's a greeaaattt, big, wonderful God!"
Coach Mandy - where to start?! She has been the assistant coach for two years now. I believe that she was the big reason why we did so well the past two years. She got us in really good shape and kept us in shape. She helped us so much with our game. She is probably one of the best coaches I've ever had. She did a great job, and I can't thank her enough for what she's done for this team, especially this year.
She taught us that "You can go so much further than your mind is telling you." That inspires me when I am running or in life in general.
Q: Your fondest memory on the playing field at SAGU?
TG: During my junior year when we played UTB (University of Texas at Brownsville), we lost 1-0. That was probably the best game that I have ever seen SAGU play. In the previous years, UTB killed us 8-0 and 7-0. We came out so strong and were ready to play. And their only score came on a fluke goal. We all played with so much passion and fire! I'll never forget it.
Q: Who were teammates that you most enjoyed?
TG: I love all the girls I have played with throughout the years! They all had their own role and each of them inspired in different ways. But the players I enjoyed the most as teammates were Madison Wells and Natalie Horton. They had such encouraging personalities and great attitudes. They always brought it to the field too. They had a competitive mindset, wanted to win, and yet were very humble and their Christian attitude was clearly evident.
Q: What were your best accomplishments?
TG: I most treasured being a team captain for three years. I was able to set some records each year for shutouts, wins and saves. Making an all-tournament team and being named All-Region as a sophomore were special. Ranking #2 in the nation in saves this year took a lot of work. It was fun working with the midfielders and defenders.
Q: What is your immediate future?
TG: Well, my final semester will be the fall of 2011 when I will do my student teaching. The Education program and the professors have really prepared me for a career I'm about to begin. I will graduate next December 2011. I'll start applying for an elementary teaching position. I also want to coach soccer as well.
Q: How do you feel the Education Department at SAGU prepared you?
TG: The professors have made a tremendous impact on my life. They are so passionate for the Lord and about what they teach. They also worked so well with me during my absences related to soccer. I couldn't have asked for anything better.
Q: What do you think the future holds for Lady Lions soccer?
TG: I'm so excited for the years to come for this team! We have some great coaches, and a great group of girls. Each year, the girls that come in get better, stronger and faster. They have so much potential. As long as the players love the game and the Lord, if the girls' hearts stay in love with the Lord they are going to become a better, winning team!
There are some talented players that give them a very good core. The redshirted players could really be good. Plus, the new recruits could strengthen the team.
Q: What did it mean to suit up to play home games on campus?
TG: It was always a great feeling knowing that I was playing on our home field with our fans behind us cheering us on! When I stepped out on the field, nervousness would just go away. Each half, when I got to the goal that I was defending, I prayed that God would work through me and the team to reflect Him in our actions and attitudes.
Q: Who were your favorite fans?
TG: We had lots of great fans. My favorites are still my grandparents, Elree and Martha Len Griffin. They never missed one home game, and they even made a lot of the away games! My grandparents were my biggest fans. I don't know what I would have done without them. They raised me to become the person and athlete I am today. I am so grateful and blessed to have such special grandparents and the love they have for me.
Tracy Griffin was a player whose exemplary performance on the pitch represented SAGU with class and spirit.
Her jersey number reflected her perfectly!