Abby Groth, University of Utah Soccer vs. Utah Valley Sept. 4, 2011 in Salt Lake City. (Photo/Steve C. Wilson)
Abby Groth sat on the bench for Utah's season opener and remained there for Game 2, a showdown with rival BYU in Provo.
Unsure when or if she was going to play as a true freshman, the North Gwinnett grad got the message at halftime. She was starting the second half at right back, in front of 4,437 soccer fans, most of them wearing the blue and white of BYU.
Welcome to Division I college soccer.
"That was just amazing," said Groth, the 2011 Daily Post girls soccer player of the year this past spring. "I was just elated. And I was pretty nervous. There were thousands of people there. People with huge cameras. The BYU game is crazy. ... I was really nervous at first, but I just love playing. Once I got out there, I got used to it."
Though the game didn't finish well (Utah lost 4-0), Groth did enough in that half-game appearance that she earned a start in the next game. Her skill set --a tall (5-foot-8) defender with speed - has kept her there for most of the season.
She has played in 16 games for the 8-8-1 Utes, starting 12 of them at right back. The most noteworthy came two weeks ago when she played the full 92 minutes of a 1-0, overtime victory over 18th-ranked Oregon State.
The knee injury that ended her high school career in last season's high school state championship game no longer bothers her. Neither does playing against college-level talent.
"We have a bunch of freshman starting and I feel like we all went into it without being intimidated," Groth said. "I started as a freshman in high school, so it's kind of like high school as a freshman playing against older girls."
While she's made the soccer transition look smooth, Groth said the major challenge of college thus far is homesickness. Her mother is a flight attendant, so she attends every home game and a handful of away games.
But she still misses her four sisters, who pepper her phone with text messages most days.
She also misses Chick-fil-A and sweet tea - her teammates tease her when she orders it. And the thin mountain air brings an adjustment, too, along with the weather in Utah, which saw 40 degrees and snow this week.
"Being so far away from my family, that's been the hardest part," Groth said. "I'm used to going home after practice and venting. It's either too late to do that know and calling home on the phone just isn't the same. So I think being so far from my family has been the hardest part."
Another big game for Heinicke
Old Dominion's Taylor Heinicke continues to produce in his first college season.
The Collins Hill grad threw for two scores and rushed for another last Saturday in a 30-point first half, sparking a 37-14 win over Villanova. The Monarchs, now 6-2 on the season, have flourished on offense since Heinicke took over the starting role.
In four games, Heinicke has completed 79 of 112 passes (70.5 percent) for 888 yards and 10 touchdowns to just one interception. His quarterback rating is 164.8.
He's also averaging 26.8 rushing yards.
Locals shine at Peach Belt meet
Gwinnett runners fared well at last weekend's Peach Belt Conference Championships, including a 10th-place individual finish from Montevallo freshman Lauren Recchia.
Recchia, a North Gwinnett grad, helped her team to first place overall and ran the 6K course in 24 minutes, 16 seconds, which earned her second-team all-conference honors. Mill Creek grad Alicia Connolly of Augusta State finished 16th (24:40).
In the men's race, Shiloh grad Tyler Mattix of Georgia College and State University was the top local finisher in ninth place with a time of 27:08 on the 8K course. Teammates Colin Conroy of Mill Creek (21st) and Rob Manning of Collins Hill (30th) also were in the top 30.
Buford grad Matt Johnson was 12th overall in 27:14, earning second-team all-conference honors along with Mattix. Johnson also helped the second-year Augusta State program to its first conference championship.
Augusta State's Adam Aldridge, a Dacula grad, was 28th.
Coleman named all-conference
Xavier (La.) runner Donye Coleman, a Shiloh grad, was selected to the All-Gulf Coast Athletic Conference team last weekend for the second straight year.
The sophomore earned the honor after finishing ninth in the 5K race with a time of 20:55, helping Xavier to the team title.
Gwinnett Grads is a column that runs on Saturdays spotlighting achievements of past Gwinnett standouts. Coaches and parents are urged to send suggestions via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.