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Troup coach enjoying challenge

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

She was ready for the moment.

During the ACC women’s soccer championship game in 2018, Florida State’s starting goal keeper was lost with an injury, and Caroline Jeffers was forced into action.

Fortunately for Florida State, Jeffers was up to the challenge.

Jeffers helped Florida State hold on to beat North Carolina to win the ACC title, and that was the start of a magical run for the Seminoles.

Florida State soared to a national championship in the fall of 2018, and it captured the title with a 1-0 victory over the same North Carolina team it beat to win the ACC crown.

Jeffers, who has completed her first season as the head coach of the Troup High girls’ soccer team, was in goal throughout the NCAA tournament, and she had a pair of saves during the championship-clinching win over North Carolina.

“The game was replayed the other day on the ACC Network,” Jeffers said. “I watched it, and my heart was still pounding, even though I knew what was going to happen. It was an unbelievable situation for sure.”

Jeffers arrived at Florida State as a walk-on from East Carolina, and she was the backup goal keeper for most of the 2018 season.

Jeffers was always prepared, though, and when her time came, she excelled.

During the six games in the NCAA tournament Jeffers only gave up two goals, and she made a memorable save during a quarterfinal win over the University of Southern California.

The match was tied at 1-1 through regulation and overtime, and it came down to penalty kicks.

After both teams made their first four penalty kicks, Jeffers got her hand on the ball and made the save, and Florida State made its final attempt to secure the dramatic victory.

Florida State went on to win its second national championship since 2014 while finishing with a 20-4-3 record, and Jeffers was one of 11 players who made the NCAA all-tournament team.

Jeffers finished the NCAA tournament with shutout victories over Penn State, Stanford and North Carolina.

In the Penn State game, Jeffers made a diving save right before the half to keep the game scoreless.

Jeffers had another shutout in a 2-0 victory over top-seeded Stanford in the semifinals, and she had two saves against North Carolina.

“It was crazy,” Jeffers said, reflecting on that memorable 2018 season. “Honestly, if anybody would have told me that would happen I wouldn’t have believed it. It’s still crazy to think about.”

That was part of a special 2018 for Florida State athletics.

Florida State’s softball team won a national championship in 2018, and that same summer the baseball team made it to the College World Series.

Jeffers’ boyfriend, Troup High graduate Jonathan Foster, was a member of that Florida State baseball team.

Jeffers helped Florida State enjoy another successful 2019 season that ended with a loss to UCLA in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament.

Jeffers gave up just one combined goal through the first three rounds of the NCAA tournament before Florida State lost to UCLA 4-0.

It was another phenomenal season for one of the country’s most successful soccer programs, and head coach Mark Krikorian felt Jeffers had a lot to do with the team’s success.

“Caroline has done a great job for us,” Krikorian said during the 2019 season. “She’s a very steady kid, a level-headed kid, and I think it has reflected in her play as well. I think for Caroline and the rest of the returning players, last year they had the opportunity to go through the tournament format and understand the different pressures that come with it.”

The 2019 season ended in late November, and a little more than a month later Jeffers was back on a soccer field as the head coach at Troup.

“It wasn’t a hard transition, really,” Jeffers said. “I’ve helped with some youth teams, and done private training. I knew what it would kind of be like, but I didn’t know how the girls would react. It was really fun to see the other side of it, as opposed to being a player. You get to help the girls understand everything. You’re showing them what they have to do to get to a level I came from.”

Being away from soccer, even for a short time, reaffirmed to Jeffers how much the sport means to her.

“It was only a month,” Jeffers said. “We ended our season in November, and I started coaching in early January. I didn’t have any soccer for a month, and once I got out there with them I didn’t realize how much I missed just being around the sport.”