There’s a bit of déjà vu with the upcoming women’s soccer postseason. A year ago, women’s soccer entered the Western Athletic Conference tournament as a No. 6 seed. Last season’s tournament in Seattle put UTPA’s team head to-head with No. 3 seed.
This season, as UTRGV, they’re back in. With a 1-0 win over Chicago State Oct. 25 the Vaqueros qualified for the second consecutive WAC tournament. Now their tickets are punched to Bakersfield, Calif., the site of this year’s matches.
The team will try to improvethe outcome and length of its tournament run. In 2014, the first-round game against Utah Valley became the final one of the season and it took overtime to decide the winner. It was a dramatic, disappointing end but it proved that despite seeding and regular-season finishes, every game in a conference tournament provides an opportunity.
This year’s tournament will see Head Coach Glad Bugariu’s second-year program face University of Missouri-Kansas City, the No. 3 seed, in the first round Nov. 5. The two teams met recently in the Midwest where the Kansas City Kangaroos earned a 2-0 victory with both goals coming within 10 minutes of the opening whistle.
Sophomore midfielder Andreya Barrera, whose goal against Chicago State lifted UTRGV into the tournament spot, spoke on UMKC’s early starts and how to weather the storm.
“I feel like within the first 10 to 20 minutes of the game there’s a time where one play could change everything,” Barrera said. “If we can come in and set the tempo before they set it for us, we the game.”
She mentioned the parity of soccer and that anything could happen in the sport.
“I feel like in soccer, with any team or any opponent, anything can happen on any day,” Barrera said. “Any player can come out and make a play game changes.”
She compared the attitude going into the tournament from a year ago and now and highlighted key similarities.
“Last year, when we went into that tournament, we said, ‘We have nothing to lose but we can gain so much from this game.’ So, we went in with that mentality and we were ready to fight. We weren’t going to let them slide with an easy win, and this year it’s the exact same thing.”
The women’s soccer team has been outscored this season 13 goals for and 28 conceded (as of press time Friday) but the tournament gives a fresh chance to make a run at a conference championship. The WAC tournament allows one team to automatically qualify for the NCAA tournament.
Keeping the ball out of the net will be especially important against a team known to score early. Harlingen South alumna and second-year student-
athlete Erica Gonzalez has three shutouts this season. She will be ready, if her number is called, to start in goal during the must-win match.
Seeding in the bracket is the only thing that carries over past the regular season and goalie Gonzalez stressed having a fresh approach.
“We just need to completely forget about [the regular season] and move forward,” she said. “We’ve played UMKC twice now and I think we’re going to be really well prepared. We need to come out hard from the beginning and keep it there. Our defense needs to be strong as usual and we need to get goals. The first 20 minutes is the most vital part of the game; their intensity goes down from there. If we can make it past the 20, they start getting frustrated.”
Team captain Hanna Spets spoke during practice on facing UMKC and also on the opportunity to make some noise in the tournament.
“The tournament overall is very special. It’s win or lose, you’re in or you’re out. Obviously, we have a great opportunity to qualify for the next stage” said the Karlstad, Sweden, native. “Both teams have the same position at the beginning of the game. It doesn’t matter where you finished in conference, if you
lose you’re out. For us, it’s a great chance to try to win and do something special, and for them, it’s pressure because they are supposed to win against us.”
The Vaqueros will try to string together wins in a tournament where they will be underdogs in every matchup. It’s win or go home and the first opportunity to make the trip a successful one comes Thursday. The entire tournament will be available for viewing online on the WAC Digital Network.