Riley Mattingly Parker: Not done yet

Martha Glen Sease, Contributing Writer

Alabama soccer forward Riley Mattingly Parker hoisted the SEC regular season championship trophy on Oct. 23, sporting the last remnants of a shiner she picked up facing the University of Arkansas Razorbacks a week prior. 

After the Crimson Tide secured the SEC West division title on the road off a victory over Mississippi State University, where Mattingly Parker recorded two assists and her 12th goal this season, someone told her she should get hit in the eye more often. 

Shiner or no shiner, Mattingly Parker has been on fire this season.  

The fifth-year team captain has recorded her best season record in both goals at 12 and assists at five. Mattingly Parker has put up these numbers after sitting out the entire 2021 season following an ACL tear.  

Originally, Mattingly Parker and the athletic training staff did not believe her injury was an ACL tear. Jeff Meek, the athletic trainer, called Mattingly Parker and asked to come by her house.  

“I was like, ‘Shoot. There’s no way this is going to be good news,’” Mattingly Parker said. 

For some of her rehab, Mattingly Parker didn’t know if she’d even step foot on a soccer field again.  

“After I got surgery, it would physically pain me to go up to the soccer field, just because it hurt so bad to see people playing the sport that I love so much and not getting to do that,” Mattingly Parker said. “I didn’t even go up to the field for a few weeks.” 

But Mattingly Parker got to work shortly after. Her rehab team — Meek, Erin Weaver-Cohen, Terry Jones Jr. and David Breedlove — were a bright point through her injury.  

“I would just look forward to rehab so much because of those people,” Mattingly Parker said. “They just made my day so much better.” 

She focused on being a good teammate while recovering. At practice, she’d pick up cones, shag balls, move goals, or feed balls two feet to teammates in passing drills.  

“Any way that I could show my teammates that I care about them — that I want the best for them,” she said. “We’re in this together. We’re still a team. That’s what I’d try to do.” 

Her classes were all online while she was injured, so she was constantly rehabbing.  

Mattingly Parker viewed rehab as a series of must-win games. She wanted to do her rehab exercises better than anyone else. She wanted to hit milestones faster than anyone else.  

Soon after her surgery, Mattingly Parker was set to start working on a stationary bike. Her first goal was to power on the bike by pedaling a full rotation on her first try. She couldn’t do it. Her knee was too swollen, and the pain was too great.  

“The next day, I came back, and I was like, ‘I don’t care. I don’t care about the pain,’” she said.  

She went to physical therapy the next day and asked Breedlove what would happen if she moved her foot in a circular motion. 

Breedlove told her that it would cause her a lot of pain, but it wouldn’t do any more damage. 

“I took a deep breath, and I yanked my foot around. I thought I was going to throw up. I was in such an excruciating amount of pain,” she said. “I was psyching myself up. I was like ‘Screw you bike!’ And then I yanked my foot around and the bike was like, ‘Screw you back.’ It hurt, but once you got it around that first full rotation, you could do it after.” 

Mattingly Parker said physically, rehab was tough, but she was just happy to be able to exercise. She told herself she would never take running for granted again.   

To Mattingly Parker, there wasn’t a worst rehab exercise — except for glute bridges. 

“I’d do glute bridges, then I’d do glute bridges in treatment, then sometimes I’d get to do the warmup with the team, and we’d do glute bridges again. And I’d be like, ‘I’m going to explode if I have do one more,’” Mattingly Parker said. Even to this day, glute bridges make Mattingly Parker think of rehab. 

Mattingly Parker said coming back from her ACL injury was also mentally difficult.  

“You have to deal with asking yourself, ‘Can I even come back and play soccer?’” she said. “‘Am I going to be the same player, or anywhere close to the same player?’ And trusting that your knee isn’t going to do what it did the last time you played.” 

“When you go through an injury like that, it’s an identity crisis. It’s like, who am I without this game?” Mattingly Parker said. 

Mattingly Parker said going through rehab and coming back from injury helped her determine her identity is tied to her faith, not soccer.    

Mattingly Parker was cleared to return with four games left on the schedule last season, but she tweaked her quad and sat out two more games. She was cleared again for Senior Night, but up deciding mid-match that she would redshirt the season.  

“That was kind of hard to come to terms with, just because I knew that we had a good chance of making the NCAA Tournament, and I knew that we had postseason hopes of playing several games deep,” Mattingly Parker said. “I had never been to the NCAA Tournament. I had never been part of a team that received a first-round SEC bye, so it was hard.”  

Mattingly Parker is back this season, and she’s even sporting a look she hasn’t sported since her freshman year.  

“Sophomore year came around and […] I think it was on media day, I was trying to decide should I tuck my jersey in or not. Everyone was making fun of me for tucking it in,” Mattingly Parker said, so she decided to wear her shirt untucked. 

This season, the jersey is tucked in again. 

She said it makes her feel more professional, but there are tactics involved with the decision. 

“When your shirt is tucked in, if someone grabs your shirt, obviously it comes untucked,” she said. “It makes an obvious call for the refs.” 

Mattingly Parker — with her jersey tucked in — has earned the SEC Offensive Player of the Week accolade three times over the course of the 2022 regular season. She leads the SEC with 29 points from her recorded 12 goals and five assists. She’s led the Crimson Tide to a 9-0 conference record.  

After the Crimson Tide won the SEC West, Mattingly Parker said she couldn’t even describe what she was feeling. She and some other upperclassmen members of the team had been working for a while to win something sporting the Script A.  

“To have a title to show for it is so special. Especially to me and some of the older girls, because we’ve been there when we’ve gone two and eight and didn’t make the SEC Tournament my freshman year,” she said. 

Mattingly Parker committed to Hart’s program when she was 15 years old, living in Flower Mound, Texas. She’s helped build the program focusing on discipline, hard work and family. 

It’s paid off this year. But the team is on the hunt for continued results as the postseason approaches. Mattingly Parker was already focused on the SEC regular season title after capturing the SEC West title.  

“It was super special, but at the same time, I was kind of like, ‘Alright. First one down,’” Mattingly Parker said.  

And on Senior Night, in front of a record attendance at the Alabama Soccer Complex — 1,882 fans in the stadium and more watching outside — the Crimson Tide clinched the SEC regular season title for the first time in program history.  

“I cannot say enough good things about the fans,” Mattingly Parker said. 

Of all the places she’s played this season, Mattingly Parker has yet to encounter a fan base that is more impactful than the 2022 Crimson Tide faithful.  

“Other teams have had good fans and a cool atmosphere, but none compare to that Clemson [University] game or that [University of] South Carolina game,” she said. “That’s going to be a great memory of mine. They have made this season so special to me.”  

After finishing 10-0 in the SEC, Mattingly Parker and Alabama are ready for the 2022 SEC Soccer Tournament in Pensacola, Florida. 

“I’m still not satisfied,” Mattingly Parker said. “We’re not satisfied quite yet.”

Questions or comments? Email Austin Hannon (Sports Editor) at [email protected]