Gators past and present face off in alumni game

The Women’s soccer alumni returned to SF State’s Cox Field on Saturday as teachers, engineers, pharmacists and coaches. For a short time, they were Gators once again.

A small crowd of about 30 friends and family were in attendance to watch the alumni, who fielded 19 former players from the SF State soccer program including three members of the 2010 conference winning team.

They played against the current SF State squad for nothing more than fun, but more importantly, it gave them the chance to reminisce about their time in the soccer program.

“This game is an opportunity for alumni to meet and compete against the current players, to establish relationships, network for future internships and potential job opportunities, and to hopefully give back to a program that gave them something too,” said Women’s soccer head coach Tracy Hamm in an email.

The game itself ended tied 1-1 with goals scored on either side of the two 30 minute halves, and although both sides looked desperate to win, the game meant much more to the players than a simple scoreline could convey.

“I think they really enjoyed getting back together with old friends and former teammates to catch up and relive some great moments in their college playing careers,” said Hamm.

Hamm, who returns for her fourth season as the Gator’s boss in 2018 and participated in her second alumni game, said that this was the best turnout for the game that she has seen in her time with the program.

14 alumni represented the 2015 to 2017 period , five of those being Seniors who left the program in 2017. The other five alumni suited up for SF State between 2006 and 2010. Three were conference champions in 2010 and took the opportunity to show off their championship rings before the match to the delight of both teams.

“Having old mentors who had success is so important – it can provide a sense of encouragement because it’s been done before and you know it’s possible,” said Hamm.

The significance of sharing the game with three former champions was not lost on Junior midfielder Ally King. “It definitely shows us that anything is possible and that we can definitely come out with a win next year in conference,” King said. “It makes us want to work harder.”

Sophomore outside back Niko Baila agreed with King’s assessment that meeting the 2010 champs would give the current team a mental boost for next season. “They showed what can be done and it makes us push ourselves to reach an achievable level,” Baila said.

Before the game, Hamm told her squad that although the match would be lighthearted, their alumni counterparts were out to beat them if only for the bragging rights. Hamm hopes her team “saw it as an opportunity to play against older, more experienced players that were trying to showcase the type of player they were, or in some cases still are.”

The game was free-flowing with the alumni having most of the possession and launching various attacks, but the 2018 squad scored first, deep into the first half on a great counter-attacking move down the left side by Freshman midfielder Monique Ponce.  

2010 conference champion and co-captain of that years team, Myriah Johnson scored a rocket long-range strike to tie the game in the second half and was a threat to 2018’s defense throughout the game.

Johnson would come close to scoring the winner in stoppage time, with only a scrambled clearance off the goal line by the current squad denying her her second goal of the afternoon and the win for the alumni.

A huge smile on her face as she walked off the field, Johnson said she participated in her second alumni game because it was a way of connecting with her past. “It’s a way of remembering what was a really positive experience in my life.”

Johnson’s 2010 teammate and co-captain, Carly Bliss returned for her fourth alumni game. Although Bliss’ nose was broken in her first alumni game back, she said the game was a “friendly, fun atmosphere but never not competitive.”

Bliss though wasn’t focused on the game so much as the relationships it helps to build, such as the SF State soccer alumni Facebook page that was started after her first game or sharing stories after the match.

“We get to connect with the new players, share stories and relive all the old fitness tests and rivalries, like our rivalry against Sonoma State,… we hated ‘Noma,” Bliss said emphatically.

Nicole Vanni, who played at SF State from 2009 to 2012 and was also a member of the 2010 conference winning team, called the tie a fair reflection of the game play.

“I’m more tired than I remember being,“ Vanni said out of breath. “We’re pretty lucky because some of their Seniors from last years team really helped us out, they just finished their season and are still in pretty decent shape as opposed to some of us who haven’t played as recently.”

Vanni, who was playing in her first alumni game, said she plans on coming out to future games and thanks to meeting some of the current squad, will follow the season more closely.

For Hamm, the goal of future games is to have past and present players become invested in the soccer program, not just the team they played on. “It gives everyone a chance to see where it started, where it was, and where it’s going.”

“We try to build tradition and a main focal point of our program is that you are a part of something bigger than yourself, Hamm said.

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