Sam Murray

CHEYENNE – Laramie County Community College women’s soccer coach Nate Ulness took a leap of faith when offering a roster spot to Sam Murray.

The coach had never seen Murray play in person, and put a lot of trust in the great things he heard about her.

It’s easy to say that Ulness’ gamble paid off.

“I will say this – Sam is the best player I’ve recruited that I’ve never seen play,” Ulness said. “I got about a 40-second highlight clip of her … we took kind of a blind date risk on that one, and it’s definitely paid off dividends for us.”

Murray has been stout in the Golden Eagles’ back line as a center back and has helped her squad clinch a spot in the National Junior College Athletic Association National Tournament. LCCC (13-1) was given a sixth seed and opens play against Kansas City Community College at 3 p.m. today in Evans, Georgia. LCCC secured the berth after defeating Western Wyoming Community College 1-0 in the Region IX title game May 22.

For Murray, it was also somewhat of a leap of faith to join the program. The freshman was never able to make the trip to Cheyenne and had only chatted with Ulness, but just that much allowed her to feel welcomed.

“I was definitely nervous,” Murray said. “I tried to come up here (to Cheyenne) twice, but couldn’t because of weather, so I just had to send in film, and my (previous) coach hyped me up. I was nervous meeting the team, and plus it was at the college level, so I didn’t know what to expect … I’m glad (Ulness) had faith in me, and he expressed it.”

Being in a military family, Murray and her family moved to Japan, which ultimately led to her playing for a semi-pro team at the age of 13. She spent a few more years in Japan, playing among grown women before moving back to Utah following her freshman year in high school.

Not just playing with adults as a teenager, but being successful doing so, allowed Murray to gain a tremendous amount of experience. But she still had room to grow.

“We asked Sam to mature pretty fast this year,” Ulness said. “We threw her in as a starting center back next to Eli Olsen, which was a great pairing. When we asked and called upon her to step into that role, we expected her to do what she did just based on the pedigree and the confidence she has.

“She’s someone that we’re going to rely on going heavily into next year, as well, and I think she’s going to spin a lot of heads at nationals with the four-year coaches.”

Along with other members of the roster, Olsen missed a few games because of COVID-19 precautions within the team. When those team members were out, LCCC suffered its only loss of the season, falling to Casper College 1-0.

But that loss may have been a small blessing in disguise and a little bit of a humbling experience, Murray said.

“Once we lost, it was like, ‘Wow, we really can lose against anybody’ because that wasn’t a team that should have beaten us,” she said. “And it brought us back to reality, and that, at any point, we could just be done.”

The Eagles aren’t finished yet, though. They are looking to carry their momentum from their Region IX title with them into today’s contest.

“I’m just happy with my decision (choosing LCCC) and happy we get to go to nationals,” Murray said. “Sometimes, we get in our own heads, but we just need to be focused and just know that we’re one of the top 12 teams in the nation, and we belong there as much as anyone else.”

Robert Munoz is a writer for WyoSports. He can be reached at rmunoz@wyosports.net.

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