Having fun has always been senior forward Riane Coman's top priority when playing on the soccer field.
“The advice that I try to remind other people of is ... ‘Why do you play soccer?' It should be because at the end of the day, it’s fun,” Coman said.
This past summer, Coman and many of her South Carolina soccer teammates had the opportunity to build relationships, gain new skills and have fun as members of a semi-professional soccer club, SC United Bantams.
SC United competes in the newly-created USL W-League, which was designed to provide an opportunity for female college and high school players to further develop and become better acclimated to professional soccer. Junior forward Corinna Zullo said she appreciated how she was able to do both in a casual setting.
“It’s a semi-pro league, but it’s not like collegiate NCAA soccer where it’s a top-10 team atmosphere, so I thought it was really fun to get creative while playing and not have as many stresses as I would while I’m playing with the University of South Carolina,” Zullo said.
The Bantams’ roster was composed of players attending universities across South Carolina and the rest of the country, as well as players from South Carolina United’s youth teams. Coman said she enjoyed meeting her new teammates and creating a supportive atmosphere with them.
“We’re all excited to go watch each other — for the girls that are now going to play pro, or for the girls that are gonna go back to school,” Coman said. “I think we just honestly had a very fun time … and now we get to celebrate each other as we kind of separate for this little next bit.”
As she was familiarizing herself with her new team’s dynamics, Zullo said she enjoyed spending more time playing with some familiar faces from South Carolina — Coman, senior defender Camryn Dixon, sophomore midfielder Megan Spiehs and fifth year midfielder Claire Griffiths.
“While it was a very different team with people from all around, those were the people I could turn back to because they have the same background as me, at least for the past three years playing on South Carolina,” Zullo said. “I thought it was fun to even grow our chemistry together and bring that back to South Carolina.”
Throughout the season, the Bantams built strong relationships with each other and head coach Sandy Burris, who quickly became a well-respected figure during the team’s initial group meeting.
“I appreciated so much that Coach Sandy started the season off asking us each individually what we wanted to gain from this summer, how we wanted to improve, what areas we were looking to gain more confidence in, because then, as a team, we really were able to rally around each other’s desires and what we were working towards that summer,” Coman said.
Players also said they admired her effort to get to know each person individually and her dedication to the team while she was experiencing severe hardship off the field after being diagnosed with breast cancer before the season began in May.
"It’s just crazy to believe she was going through that and basically just put it aside to be our coach and do what she did for the team," Zullo said.
The Bantams showed support for their coach in many ways, including at their home opener, where they wore pink jerseys (and some dyed their hair pink) to spread awareness for breast cancer.
“I think it shows how much our team loves her and is grateful for her,” Coman said. “We took so much pride in being able to have a pink game in honor of her, in support of her and we just think the world of her.”
Many players said they learned valuable lessons and gained new skills while with the Bantams. Spiehs added versatility to her game by playing meaningful minutes at a new position.
“I definitely wanted to get some more time playing at outside forward and center forward because ... they weren’t necessarily my positions during club, but that was kind of the role I’ve been filling on South Carolina,” Spiehs said. “Being able to get some minutes playing some positions out there is going to be really helpful towards coming into the fall.”
Coman also used the opportunity to become a better leader and mentor for younger teammates who were preparing to compete at the next level.
“I loved that we had younger girls on the team that weren't in college yet because I remember being one of those girls a long time ago,” Coman said. “I distinctly have seen some of our high school girls gain confidence and just gain a quicker speed of play and hopefully ... walk away with confidence over anything that they can play at an elite level.”
Overall, Coman is looking forward to transferring what she learned into the new season.
“I think summer league really hit all the boxes for me — it prepared me mentally, it prepared a little bit more physically and now we get to step into a great fall,” Coman said.