(Photo by Bill Allen/NJ SportAction)
Although Kia Anderson enjoyed spending Thanksgiving last week with her family, the Denison University women's soccer star had tried her hardest to not be home for the holiday.
On the Sunday before Thanksgiving, Anderson, a former standout at Princeton High, took the pitch at Mercer County Community College as Denison battled The College of New Jersey in the NCAA Division III quarterfinals.
Anderson and her teammates took a 1-0 lead over undefeated TCNJ but couldn't close the deal as the Lions rallied to earn a hard-fought 2-1 win and a trip to the Final Four in Greensboro, N.C.
In reflecting on the setback, Anderson had no qualms with the effort she and her teammates produced as the Granville, Ohio school went farther than it ever had in the NCAA tournament.
"We battled hard, we gave them their toughest test of the year to that point," said Anderson, a sophomore who had three assists this season from her defender spot and was named an honorable mention performer on the All-North Coast Athletic Conference squad.
"The game could've gone either way. We lost one player to an ACL injury ten minutes into the game and then there were some late calls that went against us. We have nothing to be ashamed of; we fought our hardest. It would've been nice to have been in North Carolina; that's where I wanted to be this Thanksgiving."
In any event, Anderson relished her soccer homecoming. "My parents were there as were my brother and his fiancée and a bunch of my friends and former teachers," recalled Anderson, who helped the PHS girls' soccer team make it to the Group III Central Jersey final in 2002. "There was so much support; it was really exciting. It was great to play on a field that I had played on in high school."
Anderson gave her fans something to cheer about as she knocked in a penalty kick in Denison's dramatic overtime win over Otterbein on the Sweet 16.
"I was really nervous," said Anderson, remembering the pressure-packed moment. "We had lost our conference final last season on penalty kicks and we had worked on penalty kicks a lot in practice this season. We were all prepared; we knew the order of our shooters. I always kick to the same spot on those and I tried to be as accurate as I could."
Playing as an outside defender in Denison's 4-3-3 formation, Anderson had a lot of chances this fall to use her speed and skills.
"I got to come up in the offense a lot," explained the 5'3 Anderson. "We had some good central midfielders and the coach knew that the formation was well suited to my speed. I really played almost as much in the midfield as I did in the back. She knew that I liked to go forward."
Denison's forward progress this fall was heartening for Anderson. "It was an amazing season," said Anderson, who helped the Big Red produce a sparkling final mark of 16-4-4.
"It started when we went to Europe this summer. We really bonded off the field. We were so excited to come back and get the season started."
The Big Red did have a bit of a rough patch mid-season but the veteran team used that as a wake-up call.
"We tied some games in the middle of the season that we should've won," acknowledged Anderson. "We knew we needed to work harder; we realized that we could do better."
In the end, Denison realized its potential in a memorable fashion. "There were some awesome moments and great wins," asserted Anderson. "We knew we had the ability to win. We had a great chemistry and a great opportunity to do well."
And while Anderson may not have wanted to be in New Jersey this Thanksgiving, she had some wonderful memories to go along with the turkey and trimmings.
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