Sept. 19, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – When Sarah Vinson came to Marshall, she had been part of a national runner-up club soccer team from Greater Cincinnati. She had been accustomed to success as a high school player in Amelia, Ohio.
What she didn’t expect, however, was to have an opportunity – four years later – to perhaps own Thundering Herd women’s soccer school records in games and minutes played … and to start every game in her four seasons.
That’s where the senior midfielder stands, however, as Coach Kevin Long’s Herd (4-4-0) opens Conference USA play with two tough assignments in rare “home” dates Friday night at 7 – against Colorado College (5-1-3) at Cabell Midland High, and Sunday at 1 p.m. against UTEP (7-2-0) at Hurricane High.
“When I got here, I didn’t figure I’d play every game and start every game,” said Vinson, who has played and started 65 games in a Herd uniform. “I hoped I’d be able to make an immediate impact, but I didn’t know. I’d been in a good club program with a lot of success, but I didn’t expect I’d play so much right away.”
Former Vinson teammate Angela DeSumma (2008-11) holds the MU record for games played (76). Lindsey Jayjack (1999-2002) still has the games started school mark of 74. Marshall has at least 11 games remaining, more if it makes the C-USA quarterfinals in El Paso, Texas, starting on Halloween.
Vinson, 21, was a “good get” for the Herd because of unfortunate events. Her mother, Donna, died at age 44 in 2009 after battling pancreatitis. That was the same year her older sister, Brittany, graduated at Ohio, where she was a successful track and field athlete.
Vinson was a sophomore then, and that is a key year for college soccer recruiting – and commitments – thanks in part to club-team exposure. Suddenly, after being recruited by Southeastern Conference programs like Vanderbilt and Mississippi State and getting interest from Dayton and Charlotte, Vinson was more concerned about “keeping my grades up and staying focused instead of taking (recruiting) visits after my mom died.”
She decided to stay relatively close to home, and in her freshman MU season, the Herd finished 12-7-0 and Vinson was named to the C-USA All-Freshman Team.
“That was the school record (for wins in a season),” Vinson said. “We did really well, and that was kind of unexpected, at least by me. The next year we weren’t as good (7-9-0) and last year (4-12-3) was a little rough.
“But I think we’re starting to get it back to where it was. We have a lot of freshmen, and they’ve really stepped up and we’re improved. Our no. 1 goal is not to just get back into the conference tournament (eight of 12 teams make the postseason), but do better than that.”
Long said Vinson’s presence as well as her play has been an inspiration in the Herd program.
“Sarah is one of those players who brings her best – day in and day out,” the Herd’s fifth-year coach said. “Over the last four seasons, she has led by example on the field and in the classroom. Every day, we know we can turn to her to execute what we are coaching, play a hard/physical style, and set an example of what it means to be a Herd athlete.
“This year, she came in more prepared and ready to reverse the shortcomings the team went through her junior year. Regardless of where we put her on the field, she plays like she is on a mission – whatever it takes to help her team find success. That’s her answer when we ask her to do anything different … ‘I’ll do anything to help the team.’”
Vinson said the Herd’s performance last weekend in her native state – a 2-1 overtime loss at Kent State and 2-0 victory at Akron – was important because the team “did a lot of nice bonding,” getting together as a group at the home of Vinson’s fellow senior midfielder, Robin Waskowski. Her younger sister, Megan plays for the Zips.
And while Marshall’s 19-game regular-season schedule includes only six displaced home dates – while the school’s Vision Campaign funds a new $6.5 million soccer stadium that will be open in 2013 – Vinson said that isn’t all bad.
“I definitely wish I would be able to play in the new stadium, but seeing it’s going to be built will really help the soccer program, and it will a great tool for recruiting,” Vinson said. “We’ll have one of the best places to play in the country. And the younger players on the team now are really excited about it.
“Being on the road helps us get together as a team, especially with all of the freshmen we have, 10, that’s one-third of the team. Really, it’s gone better than I thought it would, because we play a different style than most of them are used to playing from club soccer. It’s more possession-oriented, zoning on defense … but they seemed to catch on fast.
“They’re hard workers, and they always ask questions. The talent level is better, but a big part of it by them is a willingness to learn.”
Long said his younger players will learn plenty by emulating Vinson.
“Sarah has been so consistent and reliable as a team member – does phenomenally well in the classroom and on the field,” he said. “While we will undoubtedly miss her after this season, she has helped her teammates understand the urgency and physical requirements of finding success in C-USA.
“I am certain that Sarah has had her hand in all successes we have experienced over the last several years, and I am also certain the Marshall teams of the future will be striving to bring the same hard-working, success-oriented passion that Sarah has shown during her career here.
“She has set an extremely high standard in all she has done. Impressive is an understatement!”
A physical therapy major and two-time All-C-USA Academic first team honoree, Vinson wants to go on to graduate school near her Cincinnati-area home. First, she wants the Herd to finish more like it did in her rookie season.
“This past weekend, we played really well at Kent State and Akron,” she said. “If we can keep playing like we did up there – it all kind of came together at Akron – then I think we can compete with some of the top teams in the conference.
“We didn’t play well at all earlier in the season, at Ohio and at Campbell. We can’t have that happen. It has to continue like it was last weekend. We learned from our mistakes and turned it around.”