Plenty of former Bulloch County athletes have been having successful spring seasons in their particular sport. Former Statesboro high women’s soccer standout Isabella Gutierrez continues to progress for the No. 18 ranked Furman Paladins and was recently named the Southern Conference player of the year.
“I was shocked when I found out I received the award,” said Gutierrez. “It is something that is in the back of your mind along with individual accolades, but it is such an honor. I didn’t realize a junior could even win the award so when coach Burr announced it at practice, I was shocked and honored all in one. I couldn’t do it alone as my teammates are so important and I’m glad many of them got awards as well.”
Furman head coach Andrew Burr was impressed with Gutierrez skills from a young age but was excited about what she could become once he got her in the Furman program.
“When we recruited her, she wasn’t the biggest, strongest player but we knew she had a great soccer I.Q. and tons of potential,” said Burr. “She has so many intangibles that really make her stand out. She is such an unselfish person and is always thinking team first. That is a great quality, but we are now seeing her take over more on offense and making that next step by taking over a game and being a leader.’
Gutierrez leads the team in scoring (4 goals) and points (11) and is second in assists (3). Gutierrez has shown steady improvement since her freshman year where she finished the season strong with five goals in her last five games and was named to the SoCon All-Tournament team.
“I can’t be more thankful to Coach Burr for recruiting me and helping me to make the decision to come to Furman,” said Gutierrez. “The town of Greenville is lovely, and Furman really challenges you academically as well as spiritually and of course the soccer program is great, and I have teammates that I love.”
Her sophomore year Gutierrez scored six goals and had six assists and was named to the SoCon All-Conference team. This year she became the seventh different Paladin to earn SoCon player of the year honors in the 27-year history of the program. Her incredible season also included scoring the game winning goals against The Citadel and UNCG.
“I think the transition from high school to college was pretty difficult with the size and speed of players in Division-1," said Gutierrez. "Coming in opponents' coaches didn’t know much about me but I feel now they understand I am left footed and it’s more of a challenge to get to spots. I feel like now that I am an upperclassman I have to be more of a leader, and I feel my awareness of the game has also improved.”
This NCAA D-1 soccer season has been a strange one due to COVID. Most teams played a handful of games in the fall, but the majority of their games including conference schedules in the spring. Playing in the spring is nothing new as the state of Georgia typically plays soccer in the spring, but it has been a challenge for collegiate players used to playing in the fall.
“This season coach Burr has really taught us to focus on one game at a time and be patient,” said Gutierrez. “COVID really through us all a curveball as we couldn’t play anyone in the fall. We had to turn from playing to preparing for a spring season that we didn’t know would be played or not. Not knowing was tough, but finally being able to play this spring has been great.”
“It has been a long 12 months,” said Burr. “We didn’t play any games in the fall unlike many other teams, but we have played a lot of soccer. We have had some injuries, but I like where we are heading into the post season.”
Next season Isabella will be joined at Furman by her sister Helen who is a senior at Statesboro High and something coach Burr and Isabella are very excited about.
“It is an incredible opportunity that not many people get a chance to play with your sibling in college,” said Gutierrez. “My freshman year I was able to go back and play on a club team with Helen and we actually won the state tournament we played in. We have trained together forever so the chemistry is there, and I am so looking forward to it.”
“We are really looking forward to Helen joining our program this fall,” said Burr. “One thing that really stands out about Helen and Isabella is we try and recruit people who excel on the field, in the classroom and excel in life. Those two are great examples of the true student athlete and are the kind of players we try and recruit at Furman University.”
The Paladins captured the SoCon tournament Championship Friday with a 2-1 overtime win over Samford to advance to the NCAA Championships against a yet to be determined opponent.