Ledyard's Samson adds national title to her amazing soccer journey

Pardon Alyssa Samson for still being a bit giddy a week after winning a Division II national championship.

The incredible achievement as a member of the University of Bridgeport women's soccer team is still sinking in.

Samson, a Ledyard High School graduate, doesn't expect the thrill to go away anytime soon, perhaps by the time they gather down the road to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Bridgeport's 1-0 shutout of top-ranked and previously undefeated Grand Valley State in the Dec. 1 title match.

"It will still be amazing," Samson said by phone on Monday. "It hasn't set in yet. With finals, it's been crazy. We just worked so hard to get this."

Samson, a nursing major, is focusing on finishing her finals this week before going home to Ledyard for the school break.

She can recap the whirlwind adventure of Bridgeport's national championship run that culminated with the school's first national title in Pittsburgh.

During preseason, the team wrote down their goals for the fall. Winning a national championship was the final item on their list.

To accomplish their feat, the Purple Knights first beat San Diego 2-0 in the national semifinals, setting up a rematch with top-ranked Grand Valley State.

The two teams met in September in Michigan, with Grand Valley State rolling to a 6-0 win. The Purple Knights were motivated and not intimidated by the loss come championship day.

"We weren't scared," Samson said. "We just put that out of our head. We were there to win."

Bridgeport seized the lead with about 12 minutes left and held on for the win, handing Grand Valley State its only loss of the season. The Purple Knights finished 20-4-1.

An emotional post-match celebration continued back home. The team bus received a police escort from the state line to campus. Even Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim stopped by to congratulate them.

A surprise welcome home party was waiting for them on campus. The lights were off in the gym when they walked in.

"It was pretty cool," Samson said. "The whole school was there. ... We just all cried again. It was heartwarming that they were all there."

To think Samson nearly missed out on being part of a national championship team. She considered giving up the sport after tearing her meniscus during preseason freshman year.

She already had battled back from two different torn ACL injuries while at Ledyard, the second one coming with 20 minutes left in the Colonels' Eastern Connecticut Conference tournament championship victory during her senior year.

After talking to her doctor, Samson decided to continue to play at Bridgeport. She sat out as a redshirt and spent last season continuing to work her way back. She appeared in five games as a reserve this season, notching an assist.

"I did think about giving it up," Samson said, "But I knew I didn't want to. I love the game. I'm just grateful to still have the game in my life. It's unfortunate that I don't get as much playing time, but I'm part of the team and still practice. That's enough for me."

"I just kept going because I enjoy it so much."

Her teammates are happy that Samson is still playing.

When asked to vote on team captains during preseason, the players selected Samson and fellow junior Maegan Doyle.

"That was exciting," Samson said. "It was very surprising to me. I've had a lot of knee injuries, so I haven't been able to play as much as I wanted to. ... It's been a real cool journey. It taught me a lot about leadership."

Samson and her teammates already are looking forward to next season. Defending their national championship will be on the list of their goals.

She also remains active in the local community, working clinics at the Mendonca Soccer School. She played on the club level for Joe Mendonca, Jr. and Jen Solomon — Samson's high school coach at Ledyard — at Doca Futebol Academy.

"She's an amazing young woman and a great role model for young female soccer players," Mendonca said in an email.

g.keefe@theday.com

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