Campus Sports

Local Legend Scores With Ease

Cici Gonzalez leads the Spartans with four game-winning goals through 12 matches. Photo courtesy of Andy Meng/Tampaspartans.com

The ability to orchestrate talent so it can play together as a unit is not an inherent trait. Having to coalesce and discipline a team to play as one, being able to take a group of talented players and motivate them to play as a team is a significant responsibility.

Women’s head soccer Coach Gerry Lucey was faced with this task as the team fielded seven new starters this season. “We’ve got a new group we need to get on the same page,” said Lucey. “There are lots of new faces and a lot of talented individuals we need get to mesh together.”

Freshmen forward Cici Gonzalez is one of those new faces. Gonzalez, a criminology major from Lutz, Fla, has made an early impact for the team, scoring nine goals in her first 10 games.

Gonzalez also won the Sunshine State Conference player of the week award after scoring a game-winning goal against Saint Leo in the game’s final minute. “It was awesome to get that award,” said Gonzalez. “It was very humbling.”

Entering the season, Coach Lucey wanted to implement a possession oriented type offense. He wanted to win the time of possession battle every game and needed players that could control the ball.

Last year Lucey saw Gonzalez playing for a Fusion soccer club team and recognized the type of player he was looking for. “She could move the ball at will,” said Lucey. “She was controlling the ball, the ball wasn’t controlling her.”

A coach can never fully predict how an incoming freshman will adapt with play at the next level and cope with the struggles of being a collegiate student athlete. “For most freshmen, it is a shock to the system. You never know how incoming players will respond,” said Lucey. “She’s a fantastic player and she is excelling but there’s more to come.”

Gonzalez admitted the transition to becoming a college student athlete has not been without difficulty. “Trying to do homework on the bus and getting assignments in on time can be difficult,” said Gonzalez. ”It’s a challenging adjustment but I love soccer so for me it’s worth it.”

Some might say the real difficulty takes place when trying to adjust to the faster, more competitive style of play in college. “Everyone is good and everyone can play,” said Gonzalez. “If you’re not committed it will show.”

While the transition may be difficult, veteran players who already experienced the change for themselves generally assist the newcomers. “I never felt left out or on my own. Teammates accepted me really early,” said Gonzalez. “We really have great team chemistry and we all hang out off the field as well.”

The addition of Gonzalez brought more to an already impressive group of forwards that includes sophomores Gabby Russo and Lauren Moore. The trio of Russo, Moore and Gonzalez have accounted for 22 goals in the first 10 games, resulting in some referring to them as the ‘big three.’

“It’s really the big four,” said Lucey. “Courtney Peffley should be in that group as well.”  Lucey touts that his big four control the ball and can be a handful for defenders. They fit in perfectly with the possession type offense Lucey has emphasized this season and have led the team to an 8-2 record overall.

“I think we can go all the way,” an enthusiastic Gonzalez said. “We keep getting better every game. I think we have a real shot at a national championship.”

While Lucey shared in his freshmen forward’s aspirations, he was very much more cautiously optimistic. “It’s a crapshoot,” said Lucey shrugging his shoulders. “Once you get to the knockout stage anything can happen. You can have what you think is the best team in the country but an injury or a bad officiating job and you’re out of it.”

As of now, the women Spartans are one of the best teams in the country, ranked No. 14 in the NSCAA. “It’s nice to get recognized but our rank at the end of the season is the only thing that matters,” said Lucey. “Right now we’re only focused on our next opponent.”

Nathan Krohn can be reached at nathan.krohn@spartans.ut.edu

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