How big was Santa Clara University Women’s Soccer team’s NCAA College Cup victory over Florida State? Big enough that Mayor Lisa Gillmor presented Bronco Coach Jerry Smith with a Key to The City.
“I’ve never seen a mayor give the key to anyone in the City of Santa Clara,” said Gillmor at a City Hall ceremony honoring the team on Wednesday. “I can’t remember it ever given to anyone in the City of Santa Clara, so you have risen to that level.”
Gillmor told the team that they had “surpassed all expectations, made an exceptional achievement through a combination of teamwork, talent, perseverance and drive” and were now “role models, for the thousands of girls, tens of thousands of girls and young women on and off the field.”
The Bronco’s championship win is even more remarkable because it was pulled off under the unprecedented hardship of a once-in-a-century pandemic.
“We’re so thankful to be here today after everything we had to go through to compete,” said Associate Head Coach Greg Murphy. “Many people supported us behind the scenes.”
“It’s really hard to win a national championship, any year you work really, really hard to do it,” said Head Coach Jerry Smith, credited for the SCU women’s soccer team’s rise to NCAA powerhouse over his four-decade tenure.
But, he said, “We never had to rely on student athletic leadership as much as this year. We went through some things this year that absolutely could have torn us apart and nearly did. Instead, we found a way to come together. And through this process we became a closer team, a stronger team.”
One of the challenges the team faced was spending five months in a strict “bubble” in order to practice.
“It was very taxing not seeing family for five months and have no contact outside the bubble,” said team captain Alex Loera who is going on to play professionally for Kansas City. “We couldn’t even go for walks because we might have been exposed to COVID.
“It changed the dynamic of the team,” she continued. “It shaped the team, certainly. We’re a sisterhood now.”
For vice-captain Sophia Jones, the celebration was bittersweet. Right before the championship game Jones ruptured her Achilles tendon during practice and couldn’t play.
She’s still recovering from surgery and has a long road of physical rehabilitation ahead. But the aspiring soccer professional made her misfortune into an opportunity to explore a new role for herself.
“I had to develop different roles as cheerleader and coach,” she said. “Every team member is important — on and off the field. I could still support the team even though I couldn’t play.”
“We are so proud of these young women,” said Council Member Karen Hardy. “They have put Santa Clara and Santa Clara University in a positive spotlight after a year when there’s been so little to celebrate.”