Nov. 29, 2017
South Carolina defender Anna Conklin has helped the women's soccer team reach the College Cup for the first time in program history. After winning two straight SEC Championships and reaching the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four years, the Sport and Entertainment Management senior is one of several unsung heroes who helped the Gamecocks post an SEC-best 16 shutouts during a historic 2017 season.
"As the clock was ticking down in our Elite Eight win over Florida, and the College Cup was in sight, it was a surreal feeling. I thought, `Wow, this is actually happening! We're going to go to the Final Four.'
"The first person I hugged when the game was over was Bianca (Galassini) because she was over there in the corner after we had done the throw-in. She worked her butt off, especially in the last four minutes of the game.
"There was a little sense of relief in that we finally did it. We've been so close so many times, and to finally make it during my senior year was a big sense of accomplishment.
"We definitely had a target on our backs this year because of what we did last year. We got the best from every team that played us. There may have been a little pressure to live up to what we had done in the past, but it was the best thing for us in the long run because it made us work that much harder.
"We took pride in what we did last year, and we had the same goals: to be the best, to be SEC Champs, and to make it further than we did last year.
"Defense wins championships. That's not just us in the back four. It's the whole team. Everything we do is for the team. Our forwards get all the shine for scoring all the goals, so when the other team's forwards don't score, then that shines on us for defending.
"There were a few times this year when I would look at my teammates - my center back Jackie (Schaeffer), and Lindsey (Lane), and Ryan (Gareis), and Dom (Babbitt). I would look at them, and I had this sense that we're all on the same page, and I knew we were going to win.
"My style of play is very feisty. I'm not afraid to get down and dirty if I need to. I'm the last of six kids, so when I needed to push through, you better believe I am pushing through! I'm not the biggest person, so I need to have some `bite' to me.
"When we get to Orlando, I'm looking forward to being on that big stage and having our team perform like I know we are capable of performing.
"The four years have gone fast. If I could go back and talk to my freshman self, I'd probably tell her to embrace every single moment that you have with this team. I don't know where I'm going to be in the future. I don't know if I'll play soccer again, so just embrace the moment and all the friends that I make, and all of the different resources I have during the experience, and always keep in mind the great relationships I've built through this program.
"Oh, and take more pictures. I wish I had taken more pictures."
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