The new car smell is fading away; three years is too long to stay the new kid on the block.
Recruits who came as freshmen during 2014’s inaugural women’s soccer season have grown to become juniors.
Even though it is the third year of women’s soccer, Head Coach Glad Bugariu said the team is still in its “infancy.”
“Year three is just year three of a four-year recruiting process,” Bugariu said. “Building a team from scratch has its big challenges and one of them is having that continuity. Again, we don’t have any actual seniors that have been in the program for four years.”
The six players who were in the core group of the inaugural team are moving into a leadership role as opposed to when they were underclassmen.
Bugariu said he felt his team may have overachieved in 2014, and underachieved last season. He hopes this year they can surprise some teams. UTRGV was picked to finish seventh out of eight by WAC coaches.
His words are echoed in the numbers from those first two teams. In 2014, legacy institution UT Pan American’s overall record was 8-9-4, and they scored 29 total goals. Last year’s Vaqueros finished their season 5-12-3 and were only able to score 15 times.
One part of the core group is captain and Swedish national, Hanna Spets.
“We’ve built a foundation the last two years,” said the midfielder from Karlstad, Sweden. “Our freshman year there was no pressure at all. We just came in to play. Second year, we started to build on the foundation we created. Obviously now we’re older, have that foundation, a couple new stronger players coming in. We’re definitely taking steps towards the future and, hopefully, it’ll show on the field as well.”
This year, the number of newcomers to the team is less, which bodes well for chemistry. But one of those newcomers is speedy Ghanaian forward Sarah Bonney. The 5-foot-5-inch student-athlete from Winneba, Ghana, does not look like the most imposing figure physically but it doesn’t seem to faze her.
Leading up to their first game, Bonney was ready to get actual games started.
“I want us to play a game,” she said after practice. “I’m always eager to play matches because when you don’t play matches you don’t know where you stand.”
The first opportunity to show their conditioning on the pitch was against rivals Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi on Aug. 19. It was also the inaugural game of the South Texas Showdown, a series against TAMU-CC that will reach across all sports for South Texas bragging rights.
UTRGV came out on top 2-1, while outshooting its guest 18-2 at the UTRGV Soccer and Track & Field Complex.
Hanna Spets scored the first goal from teammate Andyrea Barrera’s header. The connection between two veterans on the team sparked dominance nearly the entire match. Kelzy Jepsen scored the winning goal; Barrera earned another assist on that tally.
After the match Barrera showed excitement for the win, getting back to game action, as well as having a new offensive weapon by her side.
“It was really good to get back to the pitch; that’s why we train in the offseason,” said Barrera, a junior from El Paso. “[Bonney] looks good out there. Her footwork is good. It’s a great addition. I’m glad she came to us.”
While she did not get on the score sheet, Bonney’s energy was hard to miss when she came on as a substitute in the later stages of the second half. She was credited with two shots, one hitting the crossbar. Her speed and footwork was noticeable as she left many would-be defenders behind.
Offense was not the issue in their second game, a 3-2 overtime loss against Fairleigh Dickinson University. Diandra Aliaga found the back of the net twice.
What plagued UTRGV in the loss was a red card in the 76th minute that allowed the visiting team to score a late equalizer and then OT goal.
The team’s core is set for a third year of growth. Now the younger ranks have a firm foundation to stand on as well.
Veterans like Goalkeeper Erica Gonzalez can depend on other vets like Frida Farstad-Eriksson to mold newer players to hold down the defensive third.
On offense the creative play from Barrera will now have a speedy complementary player like Bonney to try to finish the job on the offensive third of the field.
Only game action will decide if this version of Vaquero soccer can eclipse the success of the inaugural season or will repeat the shortcomings of a year ago.