Gray on Reinhardt’s national championship run: Staying focused, bringing energy are key

Since we last heard from Swainsboro High School alum Kirsten Gray, she and the women’s soccer team at Reinhardt University have played in three games.

Against Mobile University, the RU Eagles managed to pull out a 3-1 win.

After the win against Mobile, the team continued to prepare themselves for the conference tournament that was soon approaching. The first round in the tournament was against Tennessee Wesleyan.

“This was a huge game for us. If we won, we advanced to the next round and qualified for nationals,” Gray explained. “However, if we were to lose, that would be the end of the season. It was a lot of pressure. Luckily, we had home field advantage, so we were super excited. We had a rough game but managed to pull a win, 2-1. After that game, we were focused on winning the conference championship game.”

For the AAC Championship on Wednesday, April 7, Reinhardt University played Truett McConnell. Reinhardt had lost to the Bears each time they played them previously and were the Eagles’ only loss on their 12-1 record during the regular season.

“The game was intense from the start, but we controlled the game completely. We won the championship game 3-1,” Gray said about the team going up against their rival. “It was an amazing feeling and moment for our team.”

Reinhardt women’s soccer had not won the championship since 2016, so this was huge. This also meant that they were heading to nationals.

For Gray and many players on her team, nationals is unfamiliar territory. Many have never competed in this prestigious of a game and will learn as they go into this new experience. Although nervous, she insists, “I am super excited about nationals... I know this will be a great experience, no matter the result.”

Pre-game nerves are a given, but Gray says the plan is to just believe in herself and play through those nerves. Reinhardt boasts big, loud, and supportive fans at various sporting events. Hearing and seeing all the support gives her and the team the extra confidence boost they need.

As Gray and Reinhardt’s women’s soccer heads to nationals, Gray still lives the life of a full-time student. In between practices, games, and warm-ups, she spends most of her time in coffee shops in order to isolate and focus on her studies. Though it has been hard, she feels like she has handled it well. As a student-athlete, there are always sacrifices to be made, but Gray says she will carry this work ethic both onto the field and throughout her life after this experience.

As for other experiences that have benefitted Gray, she credits her experience at Swainsboro High School and the local rec department for making her the player she is today. These organizations allowed her to develop many different skills, one of which is being a leader.

“During the first few years of having a team at the school, it gave me the chance to step up and help others while at it. On top of the leadership skills I gained, the school and the rec department most importantly gave me the chance to play... I will forever be grateful for the people who pushed soccer in the school and the people who kept the soccer program running at the rec.”

In closing, Gray says that the Reinhardt women’s soccer team plans, as always, to bring energy. “Our team performs best when we have high energy. While we do our best to keep high spirits, we also try to stay focused on our technical ability, too.

According to Gray, the team does best when they connect passes and “play each other’s feet.” As for Gray personally, her focus is to stay sharp on and off the ball, focus on her technical ability, and stay in shape. She believes her role on the team is to bring energy and intensity. This is important because Gray says intensity and speed are going to be the most important aspects of their play. She hopes to help the team by bringing her energy to not only games but in their practice and warm-ups as well in the days leading up to this major game.

The NAIA Women’s Soccer Selection Show premiered Monday, April 12, at noon on Facebook. During that show, Reinhardt found out its opponent for the opening round of the national championship. The No. 2 ranked Eagles will take on the No. 3 ranked Knights of Middle Georgia State College on Thursday, April 15. Look for results in a future edition of The Chronicle.

Beating Truett McConnell to advance to nationals, RU picked up its 15th consecutive win and set a new school record.

In a press release about the win and advancement, head coach Andy Kaplan said, “I have never been more proud of a team. We lost the opening game of the season in overtime to Truett McConnell, and our girls put in extra work and decided to do everything in their power to make this season special. They have set a school record with our 15th-consecutive win.

“To avenge your opening loss in the conference final is about as good a feeling as an athlete can have, and I cant wait to bring our team to nationals.”

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