The senior forward from Overland Park, Kan., has witnessed the soccer ball breeze to the back of the net 38 times throughout her four-year career at West Virginia University.
Yet, this is a story about another goal. A goal that put fire in her eyes more than 12 months ago. A goal that pushed her to say “never again.”
“Advancing to the Sweet Sixteen has been this team’s goal all season,” Silva said of the No. 7-ranked Mountaineers’ (16-3-3, 7-1 Big 12) drive to advance past the NCAA Tournament Second Round. “We said this the first day of preseason – Sweet Sixteen. Things change, and we thought we may have to reevaluate our goals a bit because of the injuries we’ve battled this year, but I think this team is ready to make a run. We have a really tough task ahead of us, but I think this team is up for it.”
The “tough task” is No. 4-ranked and top-seeded Virginia Tech, the Mountaineers’ opponent in this evening’s battle in Blacksburg. WVU and VT will meet in the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three seasons, as the Hokies (17-4-2, 9-3-1 ACC), the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) runners-up, play host to one of the most-anticipated second-round matchups of this year’s tournament, at Thompson Field at 6 p.m.
Silva is correct – the Mountaineers have overcome endless adversity in 2013. Three midfielders went down with knee injuries in consecutive Friday matches at the beginning of the year. WVU suffered its second defeat of the season following the third injury, a torn ACL for senior midfielder Kara Blosser
, losing 4-2 to Kentucky on Sept. 15.
WVU could have mailed in the rest of the year. The team’s Big 12 Conference schedule was about to begin, and the reigning regular-season champions were staring down a long five weeks short on depth.
Instead, Silva, along with classmate, goalkeeper Sara Keane
, rallied her teammates, and the Mountaineers won their next nine matches, securing their second straight Big 12 regular-season title and earning the No. 1 seed for the conference tournament.
Silva led the Mountaineers through adversity again at the Big 12 Soccer Championship. After losing junior forward Kate Schwindel
to a season-ending injury in their regular-season finale at Texas Tech, the team’s backs were against the ropes. Silva refused to go down without a fight. In front of her hometown crowd, the unanimous Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year scored a tournament-best three goals, including two game-winners, to help push WVU to its first Big 12 Soccer Championship title
From there, Silva and the Mountaineers battled through 110 minutes of scoreless play against Rutgers in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Nov. 16, at Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium, before moving past the Scarlet Knights with a 3-0 showing in the penalty kick shootout. The Mountaineers exorcised a tournament demon that night, advancing past the first round for the first time since 2010.
“This team is so young, so a lot of them haven’t had to experience going out in the first round, so I think it was on the minds of the upperclassmen a little more than the freshmen and the sophomores,” Silva admitted. “I don’t think we played very well against Rutgers, but we played well enough to move on. I think we need to step our game up if we have any shot of moving past Virginia Tech. I think we will.”
Attack and defense have been the Mountaineers’ focus this week. The team fully expects the Hokies to come out flying. The captain knows that if her team stays focused and leans on the instruction of their coaches, led by two-time reigning Big 12 Coach of the Year Nikki Izzo-Brown, they can live to play another match in Blacksburg.
“Our team tends to rise to the occasion; this program in general always rises to the occasion,” she expanded. “While it may surprise a few people if we do defeat Virginia Tech, it’s definitely something this team is capable of accomplishing.”
While Silva looks to deliver her team’s season-long goal tonight, she’s also hoping to extend her storied Mountaineer career for at least one more match. Her name is already etched throughout the WVU record book. This season alone, she has set the record for senior and single-season assists (13), and with 43 points this year, she needs just four more to match the WVU single-season record (47, Chrissie Abbott, 2002). Silva’s 15 goals are the fourth-best single-season showing, and she ranks No. 4 all-time in career goals (38) and points (98).
Those stats mean nothing to her going into tonight’s showdown.
“I’m really just thinking about moving on and having the best game possible so I can help my team win,” she said. “We need to go back to scoring some goals. I just need to do my job, defensively and offensively, and help this team move on.
“We’re looking to prove ourselves a little bit tonight. This team has a streak of beating top-10 opponents (11 in the last nine seasons) for a reason – we go in very focused and the staff knows exactly what we need to do. As long as we execute that, we’re usually in pretty good shape to tie the match or win it late. We need to look at those types of games as motivation for this match and know that if we do our jobs, we can beat these teams. We’re going to play with a lot of emotion and a lot of firepower.”
Fans can watch Silva and the Mountaineers battle the Hokies tonight, at 6 p.m., on ESPN3. The winner will advance and meet the winner of No. 4-seed Santa Clara – Boston University in the NCAA Tournament Third Round on Sunday, Nov. 24, at 1 p.m., at Thompson Field.