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Waltzing into WAC Women’s soccer starts conference with heads high

BY Nathaniel Mata | SPORTS EDITOR

UTRGV freshman forward Sarah Bonney goes for a goal after passing two Texas A&M International University defenders during last Tuesday’s game at the UTRGV Soccer and Track & Field Complex in Edinburg. The women’s soccer team began WAC play this past weekend./Sarah Carvajal/The Rider
UTRGV freshman forward Sarah Bonney goes for a goal after passing two Texas A&M International University defenders during last Tuesday’s game at the UTRGV Soccer and Track & Field Complex in Edinburg. The women’s soccer team began WAC play this past weekend./Sarah Carvajal/The Rider.

As summer gives way to fall, nonconference play turns into the Western Athletic Conference season. Glad Bugariu and his women’s soccer team are the third UTRGV program to start conference in 2016.

The ladies of the pitch have played 20 conference games since the women’s soccer team was added in 2014 at legacy institution UT Pan American. They have accumulated a 5-14-1 all-time WAC record and hope to improve on that this season.

During the preseason, they put together a string of really impressive outings at home and on the road. The strong nonconference play consisted of moments of stout defense, not allowing a goal in five consecutive matches. The shutout stretch was a cumulative effort from not only the three goaltenders that saw playing time, but also the defense in front of them.

Their 8-2-1 record prior to conference can be attributed to their opponents only scoring 0.53 goals per game.

Elisa Espino, a senior midfielder in her second year with the program, said the combination of a disappointing conference season last year and this year’s start is reason to be excited.

“We’re pretty excited; we had really good nonconference games,” Espino said. “We feel really comfortable playing [with] each other. But also we are aware that conference is harder and really important. We want to make an impact in our conference. Last year, we didn’t do that well, but that helps us to step up and be better this year.”

In 2015, it took the Vaqueros seven WAC games to earn their first conference victory. In the losing streak of six games to begin conference they were only able to muster one goal. This year, offense seems to be a strong point of the team, rather than a limitation.

Junior forward Andreya Barrera said the strong defense makes for strong offense. She pointed to speedy defenders that feed into their attack.

“Our center backs are strong and the way our outside backs get up and down the field it helps even more of the attack,” Barrera said. “I feel like if you have a really strong attack, then our defense is unbeatable and especially if our defense is helping us attack, it’s more of a double threat.”

After the shutout streak was broken with a 1-0 loss to UTEP, the Vaqueros went on an offensive tear to close nonconference. In three games, they totaled 19 goals, including a record-breaking 11-0 thumping of Hampton University. Freshman Sarah Bonney exploded offensively, scoring five goals in that match. Bonney leads the team in scoring, but is one of 13 players that found the back of the net before conference started with the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Head Coach Glad Bugariu said a strong scorer helps the offense with options on attack.

“There’s certainly a lot of options and different kind of players that can match up well against different kinds of defenses,” Bugariu said. “So we have lots of choices and that’s always good for coaches. They’re all playing well and making selection, as far as starting lineup, difficult for us.”

As the season progresses and rosters are set, Bugariu hopes the consistency they are playing with is here to stay.

“Overall, I think we played consistently well over nine out of 11 games,” he said. “And consistent performance will give consistent results, so that’s what I take from nonconference. I don’t think we’ve ever done that in our first two years, have real consistent play. I’m not talking about wins and losses; I’m talking about performance.”

Performance will need to be elevated as they take on the tough competition and natural rivals within the Western Athletic Conference.

UTRGV will be at home twice this weekend as they face Utah Valley and Seattle University for the Friday and Sunday conference double.

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