In the first of a new series of alumni and current player interviews, Challenge Soccer Club recently sat down with former 94 ECNL goalkeeper and current University of North Carolina-Greensboro starter, Jamie Simmons, in an effort to catch up on her season and look back on her time at Challenge.
In the current 2013 season, Jaime owns a 7-5-2 record, 6 shutouts, and .80 goals against average, while starting every game and playing all but 7 minutes in the net for the Spartans. Simmons is coming off a standout freshman campaign for UNCG, where she helped lead the team to a 12-7-1 record and the Southern Conference Regular Season Championship. She started every game for the Spartans and finished with 1.05 goals against average, 8 clean sheets, and a shutout streak that lasted well over 6 games.
For her efforts she was recognized as a 2nd Team All-SoCon player, the SoCon Player of the Month for October, and was a two-time SoCon player of the week while also earning an invite to the U20 US Women’s National Goalkeeper Training Camp. Wit a career record of 19-12-3 and the holder of 14 shutouts, Jaime is well on her way to being one of the top statistical goalkeepers in both UNCG and Southern Conference history.
In the summer of 2013, Jaime competed alongside other top level Division I collegiate players as well as current professional players with the Atlanta Silverbacks of the W-League. Simmons joined Haley Pounds (United States U18), Grace Wright (Ireland U19), and Chaylynn Hubbard (United States U15) as the fourth Challenge player to be selected for National Team events in 2012-2013 year.
1. How did playing for the Challenge SC ECNL program impact you, help you navigate the college process, and prepare for college soccer?
Playing for Challenge 94 had a huge impact on me not only as a soccer player, but also as a person. I made friends that I will have for the rest of my life and made memories that I will never forget. From a soccer stand point, having the coaches that pushed me to be better and the teammates who challenged me every day, helped prepare for the college level.
I came into college expecting the journey to be hard, but also fulfilling, which is exactly what it has been. At Challenge, we always traveled to play the hardest competition and we trained like each practice was our last. The guidance our coaches gave is the reason so many of us have been able to successfully make the shift into college
When you wonder why your coach makes you run that extra sprint or go that extra hour of training, I promise there is a reason and one day you will thank them!
2. What advice do you have for the current Challenge SC players, who want to pursue a college soccer career?
The best advice I can give to younger Challenge players is to never give up on your dream. If you love the game and want to continue it, you just can’t give up. Playing soccer in college is a commitment to your teammates, to your coaches and to your school, each every time you walk out onto the field. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity that you will remember for the rest of your life. So even if the recruiting process gets overwhelming or training gets hard, remember that soccer is a journey and the end goal is something worth fighting for.
3. You were recently called into a US National Team goalkeeper pool camp. Describe that experience and how you were able to prepare for it?
The chance to go play with some of the best goalkeepers in the United States was an amazing experience that I will never forget. I had the chance to be pushed at every training session by not only the coaching staff, but also my fellow goalkeepers. It was such an intense environment that gave me the drive to want to improve every second I was out there. The coaching staff was top notch as most of them had played for the national team and some currently coach the national teams. Getting the opportunity to learn from them was such an awesome experience; I wanted to soak up everything I could in the short amount of time I had with them. Preparing for the trip was an experience in its own. My roommate and teammate, Ashley Stokes, went outside with me every single day to work with me on ball work, shooting exercises, and footwork. She pushed me in the weight room extra hard because she knew how much I wanted this. Between my teammates and both my UNCG and Challenge coaches, I can’t thank them enough for helping me mentally and physically prepare for that humbling experience in my college career.
4. How did you pick UNCG and what do you like most about it?
Former Challenge coach Sandy Davidson first put UNCG on my radar. She had become the assistant coach at UNCG and knew I was still looking at schools. I always valued Sandy’s advice and knew that if I were around her she would make me better. I had schools on my list that I was ready to go visit with UNCG being my second. When I stepped on the campus something about it made me instantly feel comfortable. I know that might sound cliché but it was the truth! The campus was beautiful and made me feel at home and meeting head Coach Steve Nugent for the first time wasn’t what I was expecting. I didn’t feel nervous at all and after talking with him countless times, whether it was about school, soccer or just him asking how I was doing; I knew he would always have my back. Like my coaches at Challenge, he seemed care not only about my athletic ability, but also he genuinely cared about me as a person. He told me that he couldn’t guarantee that I would play, but he would make me the best goalkeeper I could be. That is something that has always kind of stuck with me. I also knew that UNCG had a winning program and at the end of the day I want to win and I wanted to compete. The academic aspect, which was a huge point on my list, was spot on with the nursing program being one of the best in the country. Lastly, what solidified my decision was the team. The team is not just the people you tie your cleats next to everyday, but they become your family. I knew that everyone had each other’s back and the atmosphere was something I just knew I wanted to be a part of.
5. Both you and your team at UNCG had a great 2012 season. How can you top it in 2013, and what are your individual and team goals?
As a freshman, not really knowing how it all works was thrilling at times and nerve wracking in others. The leadership we had and the people I had the chance to look up to inspired me and my teammates to give everything we had when we took that step onto the field. This year is no different with new leaders emerging and continuing the legacy to maximize our potential. Coming out as defending SoCon champs gives us the motivation to defend that title. This year we have to keep grinding and not only win the season title, but also win our conference tournament at the end of the year. We all know what we want and it is evident when we train. Individually, my goals this year, after having that year under my belt, is to help lead from the back half of the field and give everything I have for my teammates and my coaches; I have to continually work to get better physically and mentally. Twenty games go by so fast and before you know it, it’s over. When the NCAA lineup comes out we want our name on the screen and to look back and say this was our year.
6. What are your best memories from both your career at Challenge and your time (so far) at UNCG?
The memories I have at challenge and UNCG, I can honestly say, are somewhat similar. I have formed friendships and sisters that will always be in my life. Through the hard times of losing and the exciting times of winning, we never left each other’s side; everything was always left on the field. Both teams remind me of each other because everyone is so full of life. We joke and do weird things that only each other understand. From stuffing people in Target freezers with Challenge 94 to playing odds in the locker room at UNCG, these are memories that can never be replaced. I really look back and wonder how lucky I havebeen to be a part of two amazing soccer teams and two amazing families.