Malavassi gives West Florida a boost
Costa Rican native helps send Argonauts to national title game
EVANS, Ga. -- For diminutive West Florida senior Monica Malavassi, Thursday’s 2-1 double-overtime win against defending Division II national champion Saint Rose capped her once-uncertain season with sweet redemption.
The 5-foot-2 Malavassi, who has spent much of this season struggling to come back from a torn anterior cruciate knee ligament injury suffered last March, broke a scoreless tie with the first goal of Thursday’s game in the 78th minute. Without it, the Argonauts would not be playing in Saturday’s national championship game against UC San Diego.
It was the seventh goal of the season for Malavassi, but certainly the most memorable. She took a crossing pass from teammate Chelsea Palmer on the play and then surprised even herself by kicking the ball into the left side of the net. She usually goes to her right.
“I went to the left, and who would have thought that? But it went in,” Malavassi said. “I was just glad it finally went in. And I was just so happy.”
“I was shocked that she went to her left, too.” head coach Joe Bartlinski said.
Then again, nothing Malavassi does really should surprise her coach. There were doubts that her collegiate career might be over after the serious knee injury suffered last spring.
“Tori [Fish] mentioned that in our team huddle, how Monica worked so hard to come back this season,” Bartlinski said. “We finally got her back on the field in late September, and then a little more in October. It’s kind of been like we’ve increased giving her minutes little by little by little.
“But [Malavassi] and Tori in the middle of the field were machines [on Thursday]. They were moving around the Saint Rose midfielders. They were very active and made it very difficult for them. They were just machines out there, those two. I was especially pleased to see it from Monica [Malavassi].”
Fish said Malavassi reflects the resiliency of the West Florida team. She also said that even after Malavassi’s goal gave the Argonauts a 1-0 lead Thursday, she suspected the game was far from over. So she and Malavassi kept pushing – and even after Saint Rose tied the game back up in the 87th minute and eventually forced the two overtimes, Fish kept repeating her mantra – to herself and her teammates – that this West Florida team is unique.
“This team is special,” Fish said. “Saint Rose is an incredible team. They hustle and they do not let go. In the back of my mind, even when Monica scored that goal, I knew they were not done. I knew they would come back and tie it. They didn’t want to lose. They were the defending national champs.
“But we kind of came together and said, ‘It’s okay. We’ve got to keep scoring to win.’ It’s crazy. But this team has been through a lot. Even in our three weeks of preseason, we had the hurricane and we had to go somewhere else to train. We were just so out of our element. From there, people kind of doubted us. … This team is one. We kind of had this thing before the playoffs where we said we’re like a rubber band. It’s such a humble little thing, a rubber band. But you can wrap it around your wrist and it’s so strong and it can hold so much together.”
The Argonauts eventually won Thursday’s semifinal on a penalty kick by Palmer in the 101st minute, improving their record on the season to 23-1. But it was Malavassi’s goal that got them going.
“It felt great. We were on them; we had so many chances,” Malavassi said. “I was just praying, ‘God, just let it go in.’ I got with Chelsea and it was a good combination, and once it went in I knew we were going to be all right.”
There was a time not long ago when Malavassi spent many nights wondering if she was going to be all right. A native of Costa Rica, who was captain of that country’s national soccer team and also served as point guard on the national basketball team, said it was her teammates who kept her motivated to press on as she rehabilitated from her injury.
“This team is great. These players, they carried me on at the beginning of the season when I couldn’t play,” Malavassi said. “And that helped me become a better player, just being on the bench and watching. It gave me so much energy and I’m just so grateful to even be here.
“Then to get that goal. That goal meant so much. It just kind of sums up everything for me. I’ve had such a tough year, but this team carried me on all season and kept me going. This goal was for them and for my family and for everyone who kept me going all season.”