BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Samford Athletics is continuing the Student-Athlete Spotlight series, presented by Coca-Cola, which, this week, will highlight Kylie Gazza, a junior defender on the soccer team.
Gazza is a native of Cumming, Ga., and came to Samford from West Forsyth High School. She talked a little about how she wound up at Samford.
“I didn’t know about the school really, my club coach suggested it,” Gazza said. “He was like, ‘hey, I think you’re really going to like it. I know a lot of great players have come here, Allie Lourie, Taylor Meneide, the Orman twins, fantastic players came through here.’ So, I was like, ‘okay, let me go look around.’ So, I went, and I fell in love with it. The coaching, the environment, all the players. And then after my visit, I was driving home literally 10 minutes later, I called him (head coach Todd Yelton) saying I wanted to commit. He was like, ‘you’re the fastest commit we’ve ever had, Kylie.’ I said, I can’t wait.”
Gazza was a highly recruited player coming out of high school. She said she had several options, but she is glad she chose to come to Samford.
“A lot of Power 5 schools,” Gazza said. “I was looking at Wisconsin, Maryland, a lot of ones up north. But then I came to Samford and never looked back.”
This year’s team is having one of the most successful seasons in school history so far. The team’s RPI has reached an impressive 37th in the nation. The ranking could put Samford into the discussion for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament should they not win the SoCon Tournament and could help them achieve a higher seeding in the NCAA Tournament whichever way the Bulldogs earn a bid.
“It’s definitely shown how good we are this year,” Gazza said. “We went 9-0 in our conference, every week we’ve seen our RPI rise, and it was so awesome to see Samford up there with all these big schools like Alabama and even Stanford, we were so close to them. It’s crazy to think about. At the same time, yes, we’re looking at an at-large bid when in doubt, but we also want to win on Sunday (SoCon championship game).”
The Southern Conference postseason awards came out last week. Gazza was named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year. She talked about how she learned of her award.
“I was in class, and I heard my phone buzzing, and I was like, ‘I can’t pick up my phone, I’m in class’,” Gazza said. “And then when I got out and I looked at it and I was like, ‘oh my gosh.’ I was in shock, I called my mom and I said, ‘mom, I won!’ It was so great; my teammates were so supportive. At the same time, I wouldn’t have gotten this award without my defense, Alyssa Conarton, Lindsay Origliasso, Ella Simpson and then Morgan McAslan. Our backline this year as just been solid, so this award really goes out to my entire backline, not just me.”
Gazza is especially close with Ella Simpson, with the two of them forming an impressive center-back pairing. She talked a little about their relationship.
“We’re best friends,” Gazza said. “On and off the field, we are just buds. Whenever we’re going through something, we know it, just looking at each other and we’re there for each other. And then on the field it translates because I know she has my back and I’ll have her back, 100 percent. It’s just insane how far we’ve come since COVID. I remember she was like, ‘Kylie, I’m nervous,’ and I said, ‘Ella, I got you.’ And she has me and it’s just an amazing relationship we have, I love her.”
The Bulldogs reached Sunday’s SoCon Tournament championship match with a 1-0 win over Mercer in the semifinals last Sunday. The game was locked in a scoreless tie at halftime. Gazza talked about the message from head coach Todd Yelton at halftime.
“He was just really positive,” Gazza said. “He was just telling us to keep going, let’s keep playing our game, play on the ground let’s try and get one past them. He was just really supportive, and we were all just ready to go after that halftime speech.”
Samford’s Zoe Perrin scored the game-winning goal in the 89th minute of the match. Gazza talked about the feeling the team got when the goal was scored.
“It was just relief,” Gazza said. “I remember that I saw her and thought, ‘she’s going to score right here.’ I was just like, ‘she has it,’ and then she did. I remember I turned around to Morgan (McAslan) and we were just jumping, we were so excited. And then Zoe’s walking back and she was like, ‘guys, we still have a minute and 40 seconds left.’ We were like, ‘okay, we got it, Zoe.’ It was just phenomenal, I’m so glad it was her too. She deserves everything through her journey, so I was just so proud of her.”
Samford will take on Furman Sunday at 1 p,m. at Shauna Yelton Field for the SoCon Tournament title. This marks the third-straight season the two programs have met for the tournament championship. In 2019, Samford defeated Furman, 1-0, and in the spring season, the Paladins took a 2-1 double overtime win over the Bulldogs.
Tickets to Sunday’s game can be purchased at the following link: PURCHASE TICKETS. The game can also be seen live on ESPN+ at the following link: WATCH LIVE. Additionally, live stats are available at the following link: LIVE STATS.
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