TURLOCK — When Maryssa McDuffy arrived at Cal State Stanislaus, she was mentally prepared to sit, knowing that it would be difficult for a freshman to see a lot of playing time for one of the country’s top Division II soccer programs.
Keep in mind that McDuffy never has been on the bench.
She won the Modesto Metro Conference cross country title as a freshman and went on to finish third in the section. She scored 1,291 points in three varsity basketball seasons, leading her teams to undefeated MMC records in her junior and senior seasons.
On top of that, the Gregori High graduate was a two-time Stanislaus District soccer player of the year.
So while her athletic pedigree certainly was as strong as anyone who ever has been in the Warriors’ program, she wasn’t sure about how she would fit-in with her college team.
“It was a big transition coming from competitive soccer to here because of the speed of this game and the players are so much bigger,” McDuffy said. “I really didn’t expect to play. I expected to come out here and work hard and hopefully then I’d get an opportunity to prove myself in the five minutes I was given to shine.”
Instead, McDuffy has started in 18 of the Warriors’ 20 games this season, recording seven assists from her defender spot to emerge as yet another weapon Stanislaus will carry into Saturday’s 1 p.m. West Region second round game against Cal State San Bernardino, which beat Cal Baptist 5-4 in penalty kicks after playing to a scoreless tie in Thursday night’s opening round game.
“It’s so cool to host this,” McDuffy said. “It’s our own field and we’ll be able to celebrate in our own locker room and in front of our own crowd with our family and friends up in the stands. It’s so exciting. More exciting than traveling. To look up and see your friends in the stands that are filled is such a rush.”
And the feeling is mutual among the fans. As the season has worn on and Stanislaus has built toward its current 18-0-2 record and No. 5 national ranking, a strange and wonderful thing has happened. The stands at Warrior Stadium not only are more full with every kickoff, but the demographics of the fans are changing.
What started as a smattering of family and friends and a few curious students wandering over from the dorms has become a sign-toting mob made up of new fans – people enjoying soccer for the first time and a bevy of youth players looking at the Warriors with stars in their eyes.
“The last few weekends we’ve had an incredible number of recruits in the stands, which is great to see,” said coach Gabe Bolton. “We want to continue that, and every week it seems one recruit is bringing a friend who also is a good player. I’m OK with that – that’s great. They all walk away thinking that this would be an incredible place to play.”
The key to the growth of the program is no secret. The Central Valley long has been a hotbed for girls’ soccer, and the first school that managed to keep them close to home would be in position to have success.
It was a coup for Stanislaus to land club soccer star Karenee Demery four years ago, and her presence in the program certainly has served as a magnet for other local players. Of the 33 players in the Stanislaus program, 18 are from the Central Valley.
“It’s become a Sacramento-to-Fresno program,” Bolton said. “I thought about calling Fresno State and seeing if we could put a green V on our jerseys.
“When I first came here we didn’t have the reputation or the facilities to attract local kids to stay. As things have grown here and as the program has gotten more and more successful, more really good local talent is choosing to come play here. They get to play in a great environment and on a winning team. We go other places and see 50 people in the stands. Here we play in front of 750, and that’s special. And that’s grown as the local players have decided to stay here and give the program local flavor and interest.”
McDuffy certainly is a part of that, even though she’s been asked to assume a different role than she ever was asked to play in high school.
Whether on the court or the pitch, she was a threat to score every time she touched the ball, and she was recruited to Stanislaus to play either an attacking midfield position or forward.
“I was of the opinion that she should play up front because of her skill on the ball,” Bolton said. “In our system, the outside defenders spend a lot of time on the attack and so many of them are converted attackers. Over the summer, Trevor White, the director of coaching for Modesto Ajax, suggested that she’d make a good outside back. Once she got here I asked her what she thought about playing outside back, and she said she’d play anywhere that got her on the field.”
And once she got on the field, McDuffy wasn’t going back to the bench. She’s logged 1,620 minutes this season – fifth-highest on the team.
“It would have been much easier for me to sit in college than it would have been in high school,” she said. “Coming in as a freshman I knew I’d have to do my time. These girls have already been in the program and worked hard, and that includes two or three years of weight-training that freshmen don’t have.”
Whether this season ends this weekend at home or with a national championship Dec. 7 in Evans, Ga., the final whistle will mark the end of an era – such has been the impact of Demery and the four other seniors on the program.
But just three months after first stepping on the pitch with trepidation, McDuffy now is certain that Warrior soccer isn’t going to fade into obscurity with the arrival of 2013 holiday season.
“I know we can continue this, even when the seniors leave,” she said. “The program is so strong that this success should continue.”