BUIES CREEK, N.C. (WNCN) — Everyone starts a season with the aim to be standing on top of the conference heap at the end of it all.
Unfortunately, only one team ends the year checking off the box for that goal. Fortunately for Campbell Camels women’s head soccer coach Samar Azem, her team is the one standing tall after winning the Big South Conference Championship over High Point last Friday night.
“I don’t know that the reality ever set in that we are (champions),” said Azem. “It feels a little bit surreal.”
It’s their first Big South Championship since 1993 and it clinches their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2004.
Needless to say, it took a ton of hard work and dealing with all the headaches COVID-19 presents.
There were flashes of what could be. Last spring the Camels took on North Carolina State in a scrimmage and it opened some eyes.
They managed to get N.C. State on their schedule to start this season. The Camels lost 1-0 but it energized the squad and set the tone for the year.
“I thought they scored a good goal but we dominated every category,” said Azem. “We dominated possession and the second half I think they broke the midline once. It was a moment where we looked at each other as a staff and said ‘oh this is going to be a good season’.”
Like any good team, it’s all about the right mix. You need the right people for the right job and the Camels have it.
Sure, there are a ton of younger players on the team but they had just enough senior leadership to guide them through the slog that is a collegiate soccer season.
“I definitely want to give credit to those upperclassmen because they were phenomenal in helping these younger kids transition seamlessly,” said Azem. “By the end of the season we played like we were a mature team full of seniors and I give full credit to the younger players for absorbing. But I also think you can’t do that without leadership from the top and our upperclassmen did a phenomenal job.”
To a player, each one can walk tall and be proud of what they accomplished as a team thus far but the journey is far from over.
The Camels will find out Monday at 1 p.m. who they take on in the NCAA playoffs.
“We’re not just here to get a t-shirt and say ‘thank you’ and walk away — we want to make a statement,” said Azem. “It’s about perennially being a champion, building a legacy here and not just a one and done. So we’re going to humble ourselves by getting back to work, rolling up our sleeves and enjoying this. But there’s a lot of work to be done for the near future and in the far future too.