By Alex Byington
Killeen Daily Herald
Jessica Stuckey knew she was joining a very good Hardin-Simmons women's soccer team.
But best in the country? That might be stretching it a little.
Well, after edging Messiah 2-1 in the NCAA Division III National Championship last Saturday, that's exactly where the college freshman from Ellison found herself.
"It was just overwhelming when we won, and it's an amazing feeling just to be apart of the team," Stuckey said by phone Thursday.
Except, she didn't get to enjoy it for long, not with finals looming this week.
"It was a good feeling, but I don't think it's truly hit yet because as soon as we got the win, we had to get on the bus and go home to study for finals," Stuckey said. "But nobody wanted to study for finals. It was 'Aw, we won, we don't really care' thing."
Taking an early 2-0 lead five minutes into the championship game, the undefeated Cowgirls (24-0-1) played lock-down defense and held Messiah to one goal the other 85 minutes.
"It was nerve-racking because all I could do was watch, and when I did get to go in, I was working hard for those couple of minutes," Stuckey said.
Stuckey, who owns the Ellison school records for career goals (78) and assists (42), finished with four goals and five assists while averaging nearly 25 minutes per game in her first season at Hardin-Simmons.
"At Ellison, it was just people running and scoring, but now in college, you have to use the team more and your own individual skills," Stuckey said. "And that was hard for me at first, but I'm getting used to it."
The most difficult part of her transition from high school to college soccer was dealing with the sheer physicality.
"It was really hard, because in college, the girls are a lot more physical, and it was overwhelming (at first)," Stuckey said. "I just had to work hard with it, and Woody (coach Marcus Wood), my college coach, kept pushing me to keep with it and not give up."
With all but seven of the 30 players graduating from the championship team, Stuckey believes the valuable experience she gained this season will pay dividends next year as the Cowgirls try for two in a row.
"It's going to be hard to top that," Stuckey laughed.
Contact Alex Byington at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7566.