Emily Cadena has been a big part of the Lakewood High School girls soccer program, but this spring didn't allow her to finish her Lady Gator career as planned. The coronavirus pandemic ended Lakewood's season after just four games, and it was looked …
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Emily Cadena has been a big part of the Lakewood High School girls soccer program, but this spring didn't allow her to finish her Lady Gator career as planned. The coronavirus pandemic ended Lakewood's season after just four games, and it was looked like it might be the end of Cadena's soccer career as well.
Cadena was hoping to stay close to home for college. That was more important than finding an outlet to continue playing soccer. Luckily, the stars aligned as the University of South Carolina Sumter announced it would be adding women's soccer to its athletics program, opening the door for Cadena to play soccer in her backyard.
"This meant a lot to me because I knew I wanted to stay home for college, but I knew I couldn't play soccer here," said Cadena. "When I heard (USC Sumter) had a program, it literally made my day."
This has been a tough spring for seniors across the country, and many of those seniors saw their athletic careers end with the loss of the spring season. Cadena is grateful she found a way to keep her playing career alive.
"I thought I wasn't going to be playing soccer anymore, especially not knowing that I'd played my last high school game," said Cadena. "It's just exciting to know that I have a chance that I could keep playing."
Lakewood head coach James Sweat is thrilled Cadena got this opportunity. While he's only been with the Lady Gators for three years, he knows how much Cadena meant to the Lakewood program.
"I was super excited," said Sweat. "She's the backbone of the girls team, and I'm going to be devastated to lose her because she's our midfield. She holds her line, she's been a captain for the last two years and she knows how to read the field really well. I know she'll be an asset.
"I always say that we have players and we have athletes. Emily Cadena was definitely one of our athletes," continued the Lakewood head coach. "I'm always really happy to see players get a chance to continue to do what they love to do, especially when they're really good at it. Emily is definitely one of those girls that's really good at it. She has a good heart and she has a good head on her shoulders."
Because the reboot of the USC Sumter women's program is still in its early stages, it's difficult for Cadena to judge how much playing time she can expect or even what the roster will look like once the team is able to take the field. She's not too concerned about that though; she's just excited to join the Fire Ants.
"I would say I've been in contact (with the coaches), but I don't know what playing time will be," said Cadena. "I know a couple of the girls that signed, but I'm just excited to start."
Since USC Sumter is a junior college, Cadena will only get to play two years with the Fire Ants. Cadena plans to study elementary education at USC Sumter and wouldn't mind getting her degree there, but she's also open to finding a place to play two more years of college soccer.
"I'll go for elementary education, and they have a program where I can stay there all four years," said Cadena. "I don't know how eligibility works, but if it turns out I can go somewhere else after my two years, I might take it."
After a long soccer career at Lakewood, Cadena is looking forward to seeing what the next level of competition looks like at USC Sumter.
"I'm excited for the next level in college," said Cadena. "I'm excited to play with girls who want to play and have a passion for soccer like I do."
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