Six years ago, when she was about to matriculate at the University of Georgia, it’s safe to say Alexa Newfield didn’t expect to still be playing college soccer now.
“Even two years ago I didn’t think I would be playing college soccer today,” said Newfield, now the leading scorer at North Carolina, on the eve of first-round play in the NCAA Women’s Soccer Championship.
A succession of knee injuries and surgeries has extended the 5-foot-3 forward’s collegiate career well past the point when most players have begun their professional careers, whether in athletics or some other pursuit.
The injury problems began in fall 2011, Newfield’s sophomore year at Georgia, “although I didn’t know it until spring,” she recalled. “I tore the meniscus in my right knee. So I had surgery that spring, in early March, and was back in May.
“Then I retore the meniscus in a summer league game, and the MRI showed I had also torn some cartilage. So I sat out what would have been my junior year at Georgia.”
That was a turning point for Newfield, who had enjoyed two All-SEC seasons while leading the Bulldogs in scoring.
The coach who recruited her out of the Atlanta suburb of Decatur, Ga., had resigned soon after Newfield signed with the Bulldogs. Patrick Baker would be replaced by former Mississippi coach Steve Holeman. Although Newfield had misgivings about the change in program and playing style, she honored her commitment.
“It was too late in the game for me to go anywhere else,” Newfield said. “My freshman year was fine; I decided to go with the flow. My sophomore year I began to question was (the program) competitive enough, would I improve? After my sophomore year I really started thinking about it. The injury was a blessing in disguise because I could sit out and think about it.”
Newfield made the decision to transfer to UNC, which had just won its 21st NCAA championship in 2012. She started 10 matches for the Tar Heels in 2013, teaming with All-Americans Crystal Dunn and Kealia Ohai on a star-studded offense. But she couldn’t escape the injury bug.
“It was in the Sweet 16 game (against Texas A&M),” Newfield said. “Meniscus and cartilage, the same injury, but in the other knee. I rehabbed all spring, was coming back in the summer and was pretty back much back to 100 percent but retore my cartilage in July. In August and September 2014 I had another surgery.”
That injury wiped out what would have been Newfield’s fifth season, but the NCAA granted her a rare sixth year for medical hardship reasons.
“And here I am today,” she said with a short laugh. “Any chance to get another college season is definitely a blessing. It’s been a good one to be part of so far. Hopefully we’ll keep it up.”
Newfield has been a key component in the UNC offense, leading the Tar Heels with 10 goals and 22 points. She picked up her latest goal in a 2-1 loss to Florida State in the ACC tournament semifinals last Friday.
The Tar Heels played well in that game, far better than in a 1-0 loss at FSU back on Oct. 11. A long run in Newfield’s final NCAA tournament wouldn’t be unexpected. A No. 3 seed, UNC (14-4-1) hosts Big South champion Liberty (13-7-1) at 6:30 p.m. Friday.
“I think we’re in a good space,” Newfield said of the Tar Heels. “We hit that rough patch two or three weeks ago, when we had those three losses. And two big losses to injury again,” noting season-ending knee injuries to midfielders Dorian Bailey and Darcy McFarlane.
“But every team will have times that define their season and challenge them. After we had our third loss, it would have been easy for us to give up on the season. We had to win out to make the (ACC) tournament. We beat two highly ranked teams (Notre Dame and Clemson) to get in the tournament and put ourselves in a position to control our own destiny.”
Junior college championship: No. 1-ranked Louisburg College has advanced to the NJCAA Division I national championship tournament, which begins Monday in Martinsville, Va. The Hurricanes (20-1) are one of 12 teams in the tournament, which concludes with the championship match Nov. 21.
Louisburg, the Region X champion, qualified as one of the finalists in the Southeast District tournament. The host Hurricanes defeated Darton (Ga.) State 3-1 last Friday on a hat trick by Max Blackmore. Louisburg and Eastern Florida State were supposed to meet for the district championship last Saturday, but the game was canceled because of rain. Both teams would have advanced to the NJCAA championship field no matter who won.
Blackmore, a sophomore forward from Guilford, England, is tied for the most goals in Division I junior colleges with 31. His 73 points rank second in the nation.
Seedings for the championship tournament have not been announced.