It was very cold that morning, frost glazing across the turf with a slight breeze. But the only chills I will ever remember feeling that day were from looking at the “NCAA Women’s Soccer Championship” signs I saw all around College Stadium and the excitement I felt as the field was setup for another game day.

The previous weekend was going to be hard to top. Not only had we won the SUNYAC title, but we also upped our record to 16-1-2, which was one of the best in program history. The energy we had on the field during the finals was incredible. Our fans cheered every single second of the game, all the way to the final whistle of our 4-0 win over Plattsburgh.

When Geneseo popped up on the screen as the brackets were announced that following Monday during the selection show and we were HOSTING first and second round games, I’ve never heard a group of people scream louder.

A small school in the middle-of-nowhere Western New York was hosting the first and second rounds of the NCAAs…in what world.

At practice that afternoon, everyone was super motivated and pumped to train for another week. We were one of 64 teams still standing. If you had asked me during preseason if we were still going to be out there in mid-November, I would have laughed, but we had a strong group of newcomers to fill the hole left by a huge class that had graduated, in addition to some pretty great returners (wink!).

Back for my junior season, I tried to help the first-years feel comfortable and build a competitive mindset as the season started, while all of us did our best to make sure all the new faces were adjusting to college, both on and off the field, and progressing each week. It was definitely a team effort, but it had paid off all season long.

Training that week before our first NCAA match was tough, but we knew we had to work our tails off. We did drills meant specifically to prepare us for a competitive weekend.

The Friday before the game, we only had one hour to practice on the game field. That one hour of practice was the best I’d had in my life. Even though it was 14 degrees out, I felt alive. I was aggressive, calling for the ball, making runs, and winning the ball in almost every tackle. Every one of my teammates was on their A-game. Not one person had a bad practice. It was awesome.

The last minute of our small-sided scrimmage, I scored on a header from a beautiful cross from my teammate, Julia Ophals. “YES ASHBYRNE!” was all I heard from my teammates. It was a such a good feeling to score like that and be able to play so well as a team. It felt like everyone was connected. Shortly after practice ended, we cooled down and one of our seniors gave us a pump-up speech to prepare us for the next day. I knew we were ready.

My parents weren’t going to be able to make it to Geneseo for the weekend, so they called me that Friday to wish me luck. My mom and dad are super supportive and have always been there for me. I am grateful to have two amazing, strong people that push me beyond my limits.

Neither of my parents had it easy growing up. My dad lost his father at a young age and grew up in a rough part of Queens, but still managed to get a college education and head in the right direction despite the obstacles he met. He would always remind me growing up that, no matter what you faced each day, with the right mindset and attitude, you could do anything.

My mother was raised in Peru, outside the capital city of Lima in a town called Rimac. I remember her stories about bombs going off every week due to the lack of government stability. About how hard my grandmother used to work to keep food on the table and a roof over her and her siblings’ heads. About how my mother was sent to America when she was the same age as I am right now, all by herself and speaking little English, to live a better life.

My mom is my rock. Three years ago, I got to visit where she was born and it changed my life.

At an early age, she told me, “Sí, Se Puede.” which in Spanish translates to, “You can do it.” Whether it was soccer or in school, never give up. That is how she got to where she was in her life and that is the motto I live by every day.

I know, no matter what adversity comes my way, I can overcome it with the mentality my parents engrained in me. They worked really hard to give my brother and I an amazing life, better than what they had, and I am thankful to have them inspire me to work hard and always know that I can always do the impossible.

I knew that I had to make my parents proud.

¡Sí, Se Puede!

Mom and Dad.
Yup - that's me!

SATURDAY, NOV. 11 - NCAA Division III Women’s Soccer Tournament First Round: Penn State Berks at Geneseo

Today was the day. While I wasn’t starting, I couldn’t wait to walk onto that field and hear my name announced. Or to hear that first whistle blow.

It was a tough game. We found ourselves down, 1-0.

At halftime, I did all I could to pump the girls up and tell them that we could do this. We were not going to lose the first game like this and we could not give up. I had faith in our team. I had a feeling we were going to win no matter what. We could not stop here.

The second half started, and Coach Wiley called me to warm up. I knew I had to make the most of the time we had left and was going to give everything I could in those last 25 minutes of the game.

I wanted to score. I wanted to at least tie the game so that we could go to overtime. We worked too hard to come all this way and lose in the first round.

Six minutes left in the second half. Penn-State Berks was slowing the game down and doing everything they could to get the game over with. All of their throw-ins seemed to take forever. I remember my best friend and teammate, Caitie Cunningham, running the ball up the side and getting us a corner kick.

I looked at the clock and saw 1:01 left in the game. I knew this was probably our last chance to tie the game. We all ran into the box preparing for the incoming corner. I couldn’t hear anything, except my mom’s voice echoing in my head.

¡Sí, Se Puede!

I was being defending pretty tightly, but I saw the ball coming towards me at the top of the box. I tried to be as strong as I could and out-jump the defender who was pushing me off.

My head made contact and when I opened my eyes, all I saw was the ball in the back of the net.

I was in shock. I just did what I thought I could never do. I tied the game with a minute left. I’ve never been hugged so hard in my life.

Just over seven minute into overtime, it was game over. Leah Greene scored the winning goal.

Second round here we come.

SATURDAY, NOV. 12 - NCAA Division III Women’s Soccer Tournament Second Round: Misericordia (Pa.) at Geneseo

I knew I had to make my parents proud. I knew that we had to win this game. I knew my team had the heart to do it.

I came off the bench again, this time in the first half, but played the majority of the game. It was a super aggressive. Tough tackles. Tears and sweat pouring down all of our faces.

A scoreless first half was followed by a scoreless second. I remember hearing the whistle that ended regulation and knew as soon as I got off the field that I would have to go right back on for overtime.

We were all extremely tired and slowly disintegrating, but neither team could score the golden goal to win the game. We had a couple shots, but they either went over the net or wide.

Our mental strength had to be stronger. We HAD to tell ourselves to keep going and give it our all, no matter how exhausted we were. I told the girls, “We can do it.”

Overtime soon turned to double overtime and, when I looked up at the clock, there was under five minutes left. Nobody wanted this game to end in penalty kicks.

That is when we received a corner kick and I sprinted into their box. I prayed to God and told myself, I can do this…I can do this.

The corner came on goal and I used every ounce of energy I had left to get myself into the air. I knew, no matter what, I had to get my body on it.

Like my parents would say to me, be strong and don’t give up.

I did it in practice. I did it yesterday. I told myself, just one more time.

I jumped as high as I could to get a head on the ball before the defense could.

I hit the turf. The cheering and screaming from our fans let me know that we had won.

It was a feeling I will never forget.

My teammates ran onto the field and we all hugged and cried in a circle together. Everyone had left it all on the field.

We did it.

We were moving on in the tournament. I couldn’t have been more proud to be part of such a special team. Misericorida had played a great game, but at the end, we wanted it just that little bit more.

It was one of the best moments of my life and I was so glad to be able to experience it with my best friends as well as with my family, who I knew was jumping up and down in the living room watching the webcast of the game.

All I could think was that GENESEO WOMEN’S SOCCER WAS GOING TO THE SWEET 16!!! We were making history.

So, this is for my parents who have pushed me all this way and made me the person I am today. I thank you for the strong mentality and positivity that you shaped in me ever since I was born.

I thank you for giving me the chance to go to college and play soccer. Thank you for supporting me in all that I do, telling me that I can do anything as long as I put my mind to it, and never giving up on me. You guys are my role models.

That one second when....
Created By
Ashley Byrne


Photos by Keith Walters. Others provided by Ashley Byrne. Special thanks to Ben Gajewski for the "victory" pics.

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