Each generation expands the Upstate soccer family.
Oct. 9, 1992: It was a perfect evening for soccer. Warm and clear, with a horizon painted radiant orange by the setting sun.
Stadium lights flickered to life and buzzed as they grew brighter. A mist began to form in the humid air above Rifle Field — then the home turf of the University of South Carolina Spartanburg men’s soccer team, and now where two student dorms stand.
Spectators cheered as the Rifles stepped onto the pitch to face off against East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania in the second game of the first round of the four-team Hoechst Celanese Tournament of Champions.
I stood beside the touchline just a few yards from the home team’s bench, my small arms clutching a size 5 soccer ball bearing the NCAA logo. I had only begun playing “The Beautiful Game” a year prior and had never seen a “real” match before, let alone served as a ball boy for one.
The referee’s whistle pierced the evening air and the game roared to life. My 11-year-old eyes were completely transfixed.
The Rifles were firing on all cylinders, pumping goal after goal into the net of their ingenuous opponents. I did not understand it at the time, but I came to appreciate later that I had witnessed yet another trademark performance by a program that, despite being only 12 years old, had earned a reputation for confidence, energy, passion, teamwork, skill and a penchant for winning.
Suddenly, the ball screamed past, kicking up dew as it slammed into a chain-link fence behind me. I sprang into action and tossed the ball to one of the Rifles jogging in my direction. As I turned to retrieve the other ball, I heard the player say, “Thanks, mate!”
That was the moment I became a “Rifle Boy.”
Oct. 30, 2002: It was a cool, damp, foggy Wednesday evening. Not a great night for soccer.
The pitch at the newly constructed County University Soccer Stadium was wet, soggy, verging on becoming a slough. But we had a job to do.
I was well aware of the importance of the moment. I had grown up just a few miles from campus. During my youth soccer days, former USCS players coached me. I attended camps on campus and watched numerous home games – or rather, played mini games with other kids in attendance behind the far goal in the outfield of the old baseball diamond. In my spare time, I would sneak onto Rifle Field when it wasn’t in use to practice my skills.
I knew that in 1998, the Rifles recorded a perfect 17-0 regular season record and made it all the way to the NCAA Division II National Championship game, which they lost 1-0 at home to Southern Connecticut State, another powerhouse that had also wrestled a national title away from them in 1995.
And despite recording only 12 losses in 56 games from 1999-2001, the Rifles were suffering a three-year postseason drought.
There was no margin for error in 2002. We had won 15 games and lost one away to bitter rivals Lander University. The loss extinguished our hopes for a perfect season and knocked us from No. 3 to No. 5 in the NSCAA Top 25 poll. We knew that one more loss could lead to our exclusion from the NCAA tournament for a fourth year running.
Our opponents, Presbyterian College, came out swinging. The Blue Hose scored two goals and were in the lead 2-1 heading into halftime. Early in the second half, we were charging up the field. The mud made our feet heavy and precise passing almost impossible. Unexpectedly, the ball fell sweetly in front of me at the top of our opponents’ 18-yard box. I ran up and smashed the tying goal into the net.
With the clock winding down, we scored a third goal and then a fourth. Presbyterian answered with a third goal, putting our lead in jeopardy. Only moments remained when another opportunity for me to score opened up. I buried it and put the game out of reach.
After the final whistle, our team was walking off the field when I noticed a group of kids gathering on a patch of grass beside the field that our team had helped cover with sod the previous summer. As I approached, they began calling my name. I walked closer and a pair of small hands raised a permanent marker and a program up to me.
I signed a few autographs and started to walk away. I took one final look back at the field and was overcome with pride. It was a moment I had worked so hard for, and yet it didn’t belong solely to me. I was part of a program that was not only fueling the community’s soccer ecosystem, but also helping to inspire future generations. My journey had come full circle.
— Trevor Anderson '04