Sept. 30, 2013
It would be inaccurate to call Southern Miss freshman defender Adriana Garcia a diamond in the rough. Perhaps she was miscast in high school and club, but her talent was obvious to coach Mohammed El-Zare.
He spotted her ability right away, offered her a scholarship and plugged her into a new position, opening the door for the Golden Eagles to reap a big payoff.
"When I was hired (in December 2012), I could not believe that a player like this was still on the market," El-Zare said. "Virtually no one knew about her. We were very fortunate to get someone of that caliber that late in the recruiting process."
El-Zare said he believed part of the reason Garcia was not pounced upon by recruiters was equal parts that she had played organized soccer for less than five years and that she was used primarily as a striker in high school and club teams, which worked to perfection at that level but was not the ideal college position for the Texan.
"I envisioned her as a center back," El-Zare said. "You could just see it in the way she moved and the comfort she had in performing under pressure. We believed she would flourish in that position."
For Garcia, a combination of coming to Southern Miss and starting fresh with a new team in a new position was enticement enough to commit to El-Zare and the Golden Eagles.
"I didn't really want to stay in state," Garcia said. "I wanted to kind of start my own adventure. I had a couple of options but here everything fit. I loved the campus, the school, the team and the coaches."
Garcia, a native of San Antonio and graduate of Claudia T. Johnson High School, was plugged into her new position upon arrival in Hattiesburg, having played center back just once as a club competitor.
"At first, I was extremely nervous," Garcia recalled. "I was used to playing on teams, in high school and club, that were uneven. You would have some strong players and some weak players. Here, the first thing I realized was that everyone was strong. I knew right away that I would have to compete if I wanted to play.
"But I'd never played center back before, other than that one time in a tournament, so I knew I had to pay attention to everything that was told to me. I really tried to take notes and change my game entirely to fit into the team. I think I've done OK. I'm playing as a freshman. That's more than I could have hoped for. I feel more composed now than I did when we started camp."
El-Zare, who has chosen to start Garcia in 8-of-12 matches, tends to agree.
"I don't think any player has improved as much from the start of camp until now," El-Zare said. "Part of being an elite performer is the ability to be a good learner with the ability to adapt to changes. Adriana exemplifies that."
And the Golden Eagles have reaped the reward of her development. Garcia has been part of a solid back-line defense for Southern Miss, one that has proven quite difficult to score against.
Alongside Casey Adkins, Kay Kay Hypolite and Conner McKie, and with the backing of keepers Brittany Taylor and Lindsey Schwaner, Garcia has helped hold opponents to just 15 goals in 2013.
The Golden Eagles have held 5-of-12 opponents scoreless and allowed one goal in four matches. Only three opponents have managed two or more goals.
"The really great thing about Adriana is that what we are seeing today is not her best soccer," El-Zare said. "From camp to today, she has become a totally different player. She will only get better as this season and future seasons progress. Like I said, we are very fortunate to have her."
Garcia and the Golden Eagles will be in action at home this Friday a 4 p.m. versus Tulsa in Conference USA play.