By DJ Jamiel
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Scoring a winning goal is one of the best feelings a player can have on the soccer pitch. For the majority of student-athletes, the feeling remains in their dreams. For West Virginia senior forward Frances Silva, it is reality.
Silva tallied game-winning goals against then-No.1 ranked Stanford in 2012 and against Texas this season. For WVU’s captain, the feeling is always special.
“I can very vividly remember (the) Stanford (game),” explained Silva. “I remember yelling out of complete emotion. Then I began to have goosebumps all over. It was a crazy excitement, and I just wanted to celebrate with my teammates.”
Silva has had the chance to celebrate a lot with her teammates over the course of her colligate career. She has appeared in every single Mountaineer game since she set foot in Morgantown as a freshman in 2010.
“I have been lucky enough to have good health, which is something that all athletes struggle with, especially in soccer with the amount of knee injuries that occur,” she said.
Silva’s consistent presence has helped her teammates, like junior linemate Kate Schwindel, find their stride.
“She (Silva) is always someone you can count on to make big plays and score big goals,” said Schwindel. “She knows where to put the ball and knows where people are going to be, so her presence is key.”
Silva is well aware of her appearance streak and said she would not take the opportunity to be a healthy scratch if it came along.
“I think that every competitive athlete has that desire to get on the field. If you do not, then you might be in the wrong line of work,” articulated Silva. “If I was not playing, I would probably be standing right next to coach (Nikki Izzo-Brown) so she would know I’m there and ready to go.”
Silva has taken full advantage of her time on the pitch. The two time All - Big 12 honoree was named Offensive Player of the Year this season. Additionally, Silva was named Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week twice during 2013.
Silva has had her best year statistically this season, breaking the WVU single - season record for assists (13 as of Nov.15). In addition, she was named the Disney/NSCAA Player of the Week on October 8.
“Coach (Izzo-Brown) had a very honest conversation with me at the beginning of the preseason,” said Silva. “She said if I did not stay focused, I was not going to be able to complete the goals I had set for myself.”
Izzo-Brown reiterated Silva’s sentiments about the conversation.
“What Frances and I did was lay the cards on the table,” said Izzo-Brown. “I reassured her, gave her the confidence she needed and then she did all of the work.”
The senior took the conversation as inspiration, stayed in Morgantown the entire summer and worked on her training.
“I stayed here (Morgantown) working on everything I could possibly work on,” explained Silva. “This helped when preseason came along because I did not have to worry about being in shape or nagging injuries. I could start at a higher level and eliminate the possibility of a slow start.”
Silva is not the only Mountaineer who has eliminated a slow start this season - the entire team has hit the pitch running. This is the first time since 2008 the Mountaineers started out the season with just one loss through their first seven games. They scored 17 goals in that stretch, a mark they did not surpass until the 10th match of the 2012 season.
“I think we have the capabilities this year to approach things differently,” said Izzo-Brown. “We have different personalities that put us in different positions to score. We have the experience now.”
The accolades of last year’s conference championship brought great responsibility this season. The Mountaineers understood that the target was attached to their backs. The road to the team’s second consecutive Big 12 regular - season title was full of obstacles and challenges.
“Frances and the seniors have the experience,” explained Izzo-Brown. “They understand the pressure because they have been through it when we won back-to-back (conference championships) in the Big East and then last year in the Big 12.”
The experience has paid off, as the Mountaineers won the 2013 Big 12 Soccer Championship this month.
“This team has just grinded all year long,” spoke Izzo-Brown. “They have faced such adversity, and for them to pull together and get this one, our first one, makes it more special.”
Despite the success, the Mountaineers have not forgotten about their one step at a time mentality.
“Our No. 1 goal is to stay focused and take each game at a time. We do not want to take anything for granted,” Silva said.
Not taking things for granted has been the theme for Silva throughout college. Upon enrolling at West Virginia, it took just three years for the forward to receive her undergraduate degree in broadcast journalism. Her final year at school is being spent earning her master’s in sport management.
“Getting my undergraduate and then master’s degree in four years was something I knew I was going to have a chance to do,” explained Silva. “It was hard having to schedule classes and getting the work done, but it has definitely been worth it.”
In addition to a slew of other academic awards, Silva is the 2013 recipient of the Dr.Gerald Lage Award, the Big 12 Conference’s highest academic honor. She believes there is a drive internally that pushes her, no matter the situation.
“I am a very goal - oriented person,” said Silva. “That feeling of completing my goals is very gratifying to me, so that’s where my drive comes from - trying to be the best.”
Silva will tell you that this drive has always been there, even when she was a kid growing up in Overland Park, Kan. Growing up there means that when the Mountaineers travel to take on Big 12 opponents, the games represent a chance to play in front of family and friends.
“One of our away games last year was against Kansas, so I got to see a lot of my family and friends,” spoke Silva. “I had another chance this year because the Big 12 Championship was in Kansas City, which is not too far away from home.”
The senior capitalized on her final chance to play close to her hometown. Silva was named to the Big 12 All-Tournament team and was Offensive MVP. Still, Silva’s teammates are not quite ready to see her go. Schwindel remembers a conversation she and Silva shared before this season’s match against Texas.
“She looked at me and said ‘I cannot believe it is almost over’,” explained Schwindel. “It is scary to think that this is the last season we will play together. It all went so fast.”
Silva says that twilight moments like these are bound to happen as the season progresses. She views these events as an asset, not a liability, driving her to feel those familiar goosebumps of victory once again.