Leah Richardson, Soccer Building Block
Lady Lions' First-Ever, 4-Year Letter Winner
WAXAHACHIE, Texas -- Architects, engineers and general contractors know the strength and endurance of any facility is in the foundation.
Coaches realize the need for establishing any program or team is only as strong as its building blocks, the character of those they build around.
Southwestern Assemblies of God University began their women’s soccer program in the 2006 season. Joining the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics’ Division I as well as the highly competitive Red River Athletic Conference only added to the challenge of shaping a winner in the formative years.
The 2009 fall season saw the Lady Lions have their best season yet. While their offensive production struggled (1.25 goals per game), SAGU showed great improvement on the defensive end. SAGU yielded 117, 81 and 70 goals in their first three seasons. In 2009 they sliced that figure to 36, or 2.25 goals per game.
A large part of that improvement was due to the leadership and performance of the team’s two co-captains; goalie Tracy Griffin (Wylie, Texas / Wylie HS) and defender Leah Richardson (Flower Mound, Tx / Flower Mound HS). Griffin, in fact, led the Red River in saves made per game (5.08).
SAGU posted three shutouts and had a 3-2-1 record prior to the start of the conference season. Heading into the final two games of the regular season they had surrendered just 23 goals in 14 games (1.64) and were in the RRAC's top five defensive teams.
Perhaps the team's finest defensive effort came during a clash with NCAA, Division III's Concordia University last September. The talented C-Tex "Lady Tornados" fired over 25 shots as they controlled the game. SAGU held their own, and, behind stellar play by Griffin, Richardson and Company, the Lady Lions fought to a 0-0, double-overtime draw.
Richardson keyed the backrow of fullbacks who are the team’s last line of defense. A 5-foot-6 senior who graduated in the spring, she is the only Lady Lion to have played all four years since women’s soccer arrived on campus.
Interview with Leah
She sat down recently and spoke of her four-year experience at Southwestern.
Q: What was it like that first season?
A: Our coach Jeremy Tosaya was in charge of both the women and men's soccer coach teams. The team had a very rough first year because we kept struggling with our numbers. Not enough players. The first few weeks we would go around trying to recruit any athletic looking female students. We even added two girls who had never touched a soccer ball. But they happened to enjoy running and working out. The team has come very far since then.
Q: So you are the only player from that inaugural team to play the first four seasons. What does that mean to you?
Yes, I am the first and only. Allison Malcolm and I were the only freshmen when the program started to finish up all four years since the beginning of the program. But she had to quit last year due to an injury. It really means a lot to me personally because I feel I have been able to grow with the program as a player and an individual.
I have been able to experience different coaches as well as see the different dedication levels of college athletes. I’ve seen many players come and go. Some were willing to stick with it through the hard times, which made the program better. It felt like it required more work because of the demands of a new program.
We (student-athletes) all have our priorities in college; doing homework and maintaining busy lives. But seeing girls dedicate themselves, making themselves better to help the team win, made it all worth it in the end.
Q: When you came to Southwestern, did you plan to play soccer before arriving?
Yes, Coach Tosaya contacted me during the summer because he knew I was interested in the campus. I got my contract signed and I was set to play and began his training program.
Q: What was your experience playing the sport prior to SAGU?
I played soccer since I was five years old, on an all boys team until I was 13. I thought the girls played like sissies back then. I played on a tournament team growing up and a year of high school ball in New Mexico. After moving to Texas, I tried out for the high school team and made it. I found it pretty degrading and it was very hard on me. Then I joined a “for fun” league which inspired me to stay with the sport. And a few months later I started at SAGU.
Q: What won-lost-tied records has the team had in each of the four years?
I don't really remember the records. But I know that we have done better each year. I am pretty sure the first year we didn't have a single win. (Note: SAGU's record in 2006 was 0-13, in 2007 it was 2-16, 2008 saw a 2-14-2 ledger; 2009 was 4-11-1)
Q: Who served as the team’s head coaches?
The first three years was Coach Jeremy Tosaya. And this last year was Coach (Tim) Grant and Coach Mandy (Fortner).
Q: How would you describe the progress in the program?
The program's progress has been incredible, primarily in the coaches and players. This last year was the best coaching I have ever had as a soccer player.
As team captain, I was really worried about such a young coach (Fortner) coming to co-coach the team but it turned out to be awesome. She pushed us to our limits. She even ran the sprints with us. She wanted to help us improve and convinced us that we could. I think that is what has helped our team the most.
Additionally, the players have improved. The first year we took anyone who could run a few miles but as the program has developed it has gotten easier to recruit more experienced players. I think that it will only continue to get better.
Q: What have you most enjoyed about playing soccer here?
Playing soccer at SAGU was the most amazing soccer experience of my life. In high school, I quit playing because of the coaching but at SAGU I kept playing soccer because of the coaching. Just like the professors at the campus, the coaches really care about you as an individual and as a Christian on your daily walk with Christ. I loved building the relationships and developing character with these amazing young women of God.
Q: What positions have you played, and, have you ever scored a goal on the collegiate level?
I had an assist once (actually, she had two assists as a senior, and four during her career) but I really don't have offensive stats because I played on the defensive end of the field. I even played some at goalie...and even some goalie. Sadly, no, I never scored a goal. But during the last five minutes of our final game, coach moved me up to forward for the fun of it. And it was fun!
Q: What have you learned from your experience here?
Dedication. Most of the girls on the soccer team go to school full time, manage some type of job during off season, are involved in church, and play soccer. I have never seen more dedication in my life and it has been an honor to play with some incredible girls.
Q: What kind of shape do you think you have left the program?
This last year was by far my favorite! I think the girls really bonded and connected. The team is really beginning to get a sense of pride, of confidence and determination. And I am so excited to see where they will go next year!!
Q: What were your best memories of playing soccer here?
Well...Coach Tosaya came up with some of the craziest “team building” exercises. Those were by far the funniest memories.
Q: Could you summarize your soccer experience in a phrase you learned here?
We had a speaker come to athletic chapel at the beginning of the season I think two years ago and she said: "Fear is temporary, regret is permanent." And that has really stuck with me. Every game I went into thinking that I only have this one chance to play my best and put everything else aside. I might not have been the best but I went out there without fear, leaving no regrets.
Q: What do you think of next year’s team?
I think that next year is going to be awesome. I know that they are really going to shine.
Sounds like the career effort of SAGU’s only four-year letter winner. A High Five is due to #5, Leah Richardson.
*Second photo was snapped by Clay Scarborough during the 2009 season. It shows Richardson defending a rush by Our Lady of the Lake University (in blue), a new member in the Red River Athletic Conference.