August 20, 2015

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) Miami goalkeeper Catalina Perez held her ground against the best women's soccer team in the world this summer.

She hopes for a payoff this fall.

Perez was one of the goalies for Colombia in the Women's World Cup, and the United States - the eventual champions - sent three shots at her but couldn't score against the Miami redshirt sophomore. That figures to be a good sign for the Hurricanes, who open their season at a tournament in Charleston, South Carolina on Friday night.

''I look back at that experience to give me confidence and give me happiness,'' Perez said. ''I don't want to have that be just a high moment in my life, but something to build off and be a positive thing. I don't want to say that was cool - I want to say I made something out of it.''

The U.S. beat Colombia 2-0 that night, scoring twice against Perez's backup. Perez departed early in the second half, not long after being red-carded for tripping U.S. forward Alex Morgan. It wasn't the fairytale ending, but just being able to face the U.S. (along with making saves on shots that came from a talented trio of Morgan, Tobin Heath and Abby Wambach) has Perez believing she's better than ever.

Her World Cup summer came after missing the 2014 Miami season with a left knee injury.

''Catalina's an interesting person because she's already so mature,'' Miami coach Mary Frances Monroe said. ''If you have conversations with her, she looks at you, she waits, she processes and then she asks good questions. She's a competitor, one of the fittest kids on our team and then throw her into a World Cup ... the experience opened her eyes to what's out there and what she can achieve.''

Monroe wasn't particularly anxious or nervous when the U.S. and Colombia met in the Round of 16. She expected and wanted the Americans to win, and expected and wanted Perez to play well.

Mission accomplished, on both counts.

''I knew Cat was going to be great,'' Monroe said, ''even against the U.S.''

For Perez - who is battling Phallon Tullis-Joyce for the starting nod at Miami - the World Cup was the best of all worlds.

She attended high school about 45 minutes north of Coral Gables in Boca Raton, where she was a four-sport athlete in high school and knew full well how good the U.S. women's program was. Then to represent her homeland on the World Cup stage, especially after spending so much of the past year unable to play while her torn-up and surgically repaired knee healed, was something that often seemed beyond the realm of realistic expectation.

During the down time last year, she studied the game and got to see it from a different perspective. She studied forwards in particular, trying to ascertain what makes them tick and how they think. Maybe that's why she was able to handle what the Americans sent her way this summer - and maybe it means she'll be able to handle what teams in the incredibly deep Atlantic Coast Conference will try against Miami going forward.

''Not just that day against the U.S., but the whole summer was very challenging for me,'' Perez said. ''Coming back from the injury and being exposed to my toughest challenge yet was very difficult. It pushed me in every way - mentally, physically and emotionally. I had to deal with all those challenges, so to remember what helped and what didn't in those situations and apply it here will make me my best this season.''

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