Oct. 15, 2009

By Amy Farnum

Two years ago, South Carolina goalkeeper Mollie Patton was not even sure she would play soccer competitively again, but today she is anchoring the Gamecocks’ through the best season in program history.

When Patton arrived on campus in 2006, the team had two older keepers ahead of her.  Head coach Shelley Smith and her staff decided to redshirt the freshman and give her chance to gain some experience.

“We knew the potential she had,” said Smith.  “We built up her confidence and got her prepared.  She was finally ready to compete and ended up getting a severe concussion in spring training.”  

The serious head injury forced Patton to sit out of practice and competition an entire following the incident.

“It was questionable if I would ever be able to play again because of the severity of the injury and if I got hit again what would be the outcome of that,” said Patton.

In the months that followed her injury, Patton dealt with several symptoms in all aspects of her life.

“Sunlight really bothered me and I couldn’t be outside that much,” said Patton.  “I kept getting migraines if I was outside or I would run or study too much.  Slowly getting back into everything was really hard after being such a go-go-go person all the time.”  

The native of Milford, Ohio, attempted to return to the field five months after the injury, but she developed post-concussion syndrome and all of her symptoms returned, so Smith and the doctors thought it would be best if Patton sat out the 2007 season as well.  Patton also must now wear protective headgear, similar to a helmet, to ward off further injury.

“We were worried about what she would be able to take again,” said Smith.  “In that year’s time, she was limited, but she did get to learn a bit more and observe from the keepers ahead of her.  By the time she started last year as a first-year goalkeeper she had already been here two years.”

Despite not playing in a game since high school in 2005, Patton started all of the Gamecocks’ 22 matches, compiling an 11-7-4 mark and tying a school record with seven shutouts on the year.

“It was hard to come back and be at a high level and try to just jump right in,” said Patton.  “Now, after having a year under my belt of playing and getting used to the center in front of me was a great help.”

That year has proven to be important in both Patton and the team’s play this season.  The Gamecocks are 13-0-1 and ranked fifth nationally, and boast the stingiest defense in Division I women’s soccer (.210 GAA).  

“I really didn’t know if I would ever get back to the competitive level I was prior to the injury, but I’m back and really excited,” said Patton.

Patton leads the nation with a .143 goals against average and .956 save percentage, playing all but 30 minutes of South Carolina’s 14 matches.

“In just one year of field experience and game experience, she has done so much better this year,” said Smith.  “You can tell her confidence is higher, she doesn’t hesitate in her decision-making, and she’s more vocal.  She wants the ball and the players in the back can trust her to come up when they can’t get to it.  The back four and Mollie working together has been very solid all year.”

“I know that if I do get a shot, I need to make that stop because my defense is so strong and if something does get through to me it’s a good shot,” said Patton.  “They make me confident because I know if I make a mistake, they have my back and same for them.”

Patton not only shines on the field, but also in the classroom.  She boasts a 3.823 GPA and started pharmacy school this fall.

“She has focused on her academics as well as committing to her athletics,” said Smith.  “Coming off such a tough injury affected school as well.  She stayed on top of her studies through it all.”

South Carolina now enters its toughest stretch of the season, beginning with Southeastern Conference East foes No. 23 Georgia (Oct. 16) and Tennessee (Oct. 18).  The Gamecocks are looking for their first win against Georgia since 2006.
“I think it’s a great test for us,” said Smith.  “We’ve worked hard to be in the position we’re in.  We’ve had a lot of firsts in this program over the last couple years and that’s what we’re hoping for this weekend – to win at Georgia and Tennessee.  They should both be great SEC match-ups.”