PAUL SMITHS - The Paul Smith's College women's soccer team had to wait an extra day to make their historic trip.
After being delayed a day due to Hurricane Sandy, the Bobcats boarded a bus on campus Tuesday evening to begin their journey to Asheville, N.C. to compete in the United States Collegiate Athletic Association's National Championship Tournament.
It marks the first time that Paul Smith's College has qualified a team to play in a national championship soccer tournament, and the 'Cats are one of eight teams that will be in the hunt.
Paul Smith’s College soccer players, from left, Victoria Gonzalez, Jennifer Maguder and Caitlyn Mack board the bus Tuesday evening before heading to the USCAA national championships in Asheville, N.C.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
Paul Smith's brings a 10-2-1 record and a No. 4 national ranking to the USCAA national championships, but the Bobcats are also traveling south with a battered squad.
"We're going there with a team of 17, but we'll have about 14 who can actually play," said Paul Smith's head coach Dan Burke. "But I don't think that should hurt us because the girls who will be on the field are used to playing 90 minutes. The whole team is going, even if it's for moral support."
The team, along with some players' parents, Burke and assistant coach Jeff Walton left campus at 7 p.m. Tuesday and expected to arrive in Asheville at about noon today. Burke had been anxiously watching the weather over the past few days and said they would most likely be running into part of the massive storm that slammed into the eastern United States during their ride.
"We're going 1,000 miles south to find snow," Burke said with a smile, noting that snow had fallen in Asheville. "I've been wondering what we are going to run into. I expect it will be rain."
The tournament is being held at Warren Wilson College and in a strange twist, Paul Smith's will open play Thursday against Albany Pharmacy, a school that is just a two-hour drive down the Northway from the Paul Smith's campus. The Bobcats are guaranteed to play at least two games,
Burke, who has led the Paul Smith's women's soccer program for a decade, said this season's team is the best he has coached "by far." He stated the Bobcats goal this fall was just making it to the national championships, so his players have already achieved what they set out to do.
"This is just a great thing for our school," said Elle Matalavage, a sophomore from State College, Pa. who also played on last year's squad that finished with an 8-10 mark. "We only lost three key players from last season, so we knew we'd have a solid team this year, and we're still a young team. The fact that we are going is rewarding enough. We've worked so hard this season.
Matalavage is one of many players on the team who are dealing with injuries. She's been playing all season after fracturing her foot during the summer, but at least she will be on the field. Another Bobcat is traveling with a torn ACL, another has a sprained ankle, and yet another player has a broken foot. Burke said the injured players who won't dress will be on the sidelines for "moral support."
Matalavage, who was one of three Paul Smith's players named to the Yankee Small College All-Conference team, said it had been an interesting few days on the Paul Smith's College campus leading up to the trip.
"There are students here who didn't even know we had a women's soccer team," Matalavage said. "It's gone from 'wow, we have a women's soccer team' to 'congratulations.' This is a huge boost for our school and the soccer program here."
Since the team has already reached its objective this season, winning the tournament isn't the main objective at this point, although the Bobcats certainly are making the long trek with thoughts of losing on their minds.
"We want to represent the school as best as we can and play as hard as we can," said freshman Nicole Landry, a native of Mohawk who was one of the top scorers in the Yankee Small College Conference this season. "We know this will be tough, but if we play as hard as we can, if we play our hearts out, I'll be satisfied. That's how we've played all season. That's how we've gotten this far."
Win or lose, the future looks bright for soccer at Paul Smith's. The men's team finished its season with an 8-4 record, and every player on the women's squad could potentially return to the Bobcats' lineup next season.
"The attitude has drastically improved across the board," said Paul Smith's Director of Athletics Jim Tucker, who was on campus Tuesday to help send the team off. "Woodsmens, canoe, snowshowing, those have been some of the more unusual sports were we have traditionally been strong. We're hoping to add soccer to that list, and I think we are heading in the right direction."