Building a soccer program from the ground up is no easy process. It requires hard work, patience, and commitment from the student-athletes and coaching staff who comprise the program.
With the men’s soccer team entering its second year and the women’s team set to begin its third year of existence, the foundation has been laid for UTRGV to become a force in the Western Athletic Conference and a geographical area like the Rio Grande Valley that loves its soccer.
In a recent interview, men’s soccer Head Coach Paul Leese, who now has 14 seasons of coaching under his belt, described the experiences the team encountered in its inaugural season.
“The first year was a mix of tremendous excitement literally from everywhere we went. Whether it was on campus, within our own staff, within the students, within the community, or when we were out recruiting and playing against opponents, everyone was tremendously excited that men’s soccer was back at a Division I level,” Leese said. “From my part, there was certainly a sense of anxiousness. This was the first time I’ve started a program from scratch. We came in having 24 players arrive all on the same day, never having played with each other, never having played for me. I knew we had to learn very quickly to represent the university in a positive light.”
Women’s soccer Head Coach Glad Bugariu and his third-year squad have qualified for the WAC tournament in back-to-back seasons and have racked up 13 victories in their first two years, an impressive number when compared to other recently started programs such as Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, which won 11 games in their first three years, and Sam Houston State University, which didn’t reach 13 victories until its fourth year.
Bugariu is ready to see how his young team of incoming and returning players mesh and perform together. He explained how the team has grown and goals set for the upcoming 2016-2017 season.
“We had to create our own culture and our own standards, and going into year three, with players that have now been here for two seasons, I finally think we can say that we have enough leadership and experience to move the program forward,” Bugariu said in an email last Tuesday. “As usual, we want to make the conference playoffs and continue to improve both in and out of conference play. We are already miles ahead in terms of overall wins in the first two seasons of existence when you compare us to other programs at the same stage.”
With 11 new student-athletes coming in for the 2016-2017 season and 13 student-athletes returning, more than half of the team has spent a year working together to build a good, competitive team setting for the new additions.
Looking forward to the upcoming season, Leese talked about the expectations and challenges lying ahead in the team’s second year of existence.
“We’ve got the next step in the process for us to become a more cohesive team, the challenge is not trying to do too much all at once and achieving nothing in the process. Preseason is vital. Hopefully, we can accomplish teaching them tactically what we do, teaching them the identity of the team so they’re building character and V-chemistry,” Leese explained. “Within conference last year, we played eight out of 10 games where one goal determined the difference; this year we could perform very well in this game or that game, but consistency when you’re still a young program is one of the keywords for this year.”
The women’s soccer team begins practice Aug. 4 while the men’s team starts Aug. 11. The women’s home opener is at 7 p.m. Aug. 19 against Texas A&M Corpus Christi. The men’s team official home opener is set for 7 p.m. Sept. 2 against Presbyterian University. Both games will take place at the UTRGV Soccer Complex.