TAMPA — As her team advanced to one NCAA Tournament after another, eventually winning a national championship, Nicole Murphy was the fittest of the bunch.
The former University of Tampa soccer player set the standard, spending extra time in the gym and even showing up to practice one day after completing a marathon. Murphy's teammates tried outdoing her at anything fitness-related, though they knew it wasn't possible.
"She just always expected more from herself, which made her teammates expect more from ourselves," said Shelby Kuni, a former UT player.
Murphy, 24, died Tuesday after being struck by a car while attending the World Cup in South Africa with her father and siblings. Her brother is in an intensive care unit and is expected to recover, the family said. One of her sisters suffered a concussion.
The family believes a drunken driver hit them while they were in a designated walking area.
Murphy graduated magna cum laude from UT in 2008, and was two years into medical school at LSU-New Orleans. Her brother Lucas, 27, who was not on the trip, said Murphy also was in the Army reserves.
Lucas Murphy thinks his family made it to two World Cup games. They would have been at today's United States-Slovenia match.
"It was her dream to go there and do something like that," Murphy's brother said.
Murphy was a four-year starter at UT. The Lafayette, La., native played defender for the Spartans and helped lead them to the Division II national title in 2007. Only two others played more minutes than she did that year.
"She had the energy to go the full 90 minutes," UT coach Gerry Lucey said.
Murphy played in 84 career games, scoring five goals. Her senior year, she made the All-Sunshine State Conference first team and was an all-tournament player.
Assistant coach Don Tobin remembers Murphy making a big stop in a postseason game en route to the championship. She always seemed to do something special on the field, he said.
"When the game was on the line, she was there," Tobin said, "whether it was kicking a ball off the goal line and saving us, or getting us a goal."
Friend and teammate Shannon Agnew spoke to Murphy, or "Murph" as she was known by the team, just days before she left for South Africa.
"She loved to travel, so I wasn't even surprised that she had tickets to South Africa," she said. "Murph was just excited to go over and see soccer like that and just be traveling the world."
While in college, the two competed in their first triathlon. They agreed to stick together, but Agnew said she should have known better.
Murphy waited for her at the finish line, Agnew recalled, "with a big dumb grin on her face."
Funeral arrangements haven't been announced yet. The University of Tampa will honor Murphy at an alumni game in August.
Kevin Smetana can be reached at (813) 661-2439 or [email protected]