Nearly four months after the end of its regular season, Texas State soccer (4-9-1 overall, 4-4 Sun Belt) will retake the pitch against the University of North Texas Mean Green (1-0) at 1 p.m. on Feb. 28.
Despite the cancellation of the Bobcats’ first game of 2021 against Houston Baptist University, their return to the San Marcos Soccer Complex will prove to be valuable against experienced and storied teams like UNT.
The Bobcats ended the fall season after crashing out early against a defensive Troy University team in the Sun Belt Conference Championship on Nov. 2. Despite the Trojan’s 1-8-1 overall record, they ended the Bobcats’ season in the 96th minute of the contest, after a poorly defended 70-yard pass found a willing Troy attacker on the break to convert one of its few shots on target.
The middling season was characterized by inconsistent finishing tainting an often solid defense, with Head Coach Kat Conner frequently admonishing the former while praising the latter.
Despite Texas State’s consistent defense, it was frequently punished due to brief lapses in concentration. Of the 11 teams in the Sun Belt, the Bobcats ranked seventh in goals allowed per game with 1.53 and did not manage a shutout in conference games.
Bitter experiences aside, the Bobcats have several young players to build the team around in the years to come.
Freshman goalkeeper Beth Agee is playing beyond her years between the posts, leading the Sun Belt with 71 saves, an average of 5.07 per game. Freshman midfielder Emma Jones and freshman forward Olivia Wright provide dynamism down the wing and up top respectively, something the team will need in spades if they want to turn around their fortunes.
While the team may struggle to find a creative central midfielder to match the passing output of now-graduated midfielder Renny Moore, the “engine room” might have its new defensive anchor in sophomore midfielder Karlee Torisk, who impressed in defensive midfield toward the end of the season.
As Conference USA postponed the beginning of its season until spring 2021, the Mean Green played their first game in 437 days on Jan. 29, a 1-0 exhibition victory against The University of the Incarnate Word. UNT had not graced a pitch since their first-round exit against the University of Arkansas on Nov. 15, 2019.
Since their 2021 debut, the Mean Green played two of a possible five regular-season games: a 1-0 loss to No. 9 Texas A&M and a 7-0 thumping of Louisiana State University of Alexandria. The other three games against Southern Methodist University, Midwestern State University and Grambling State University were canceled.
UNT, despite the possible rust, strides onto the pitch with confidence as the six-time reigning C-USA champions. Senior forward Berklee Peters, who led the team with 14 goals in their last season, returns to lead the team alongside junior goalkeeper Kelsey Brann, who had led with 64 saves.
Tactically, the Bobcats are in for a tough game, as last semester’s build-up play often relied on wide players beating their defenders and finding open players with cutback passes or crosses. A more organized team like UNT may stifle that strategy. Should Coach Conner feel the need to build the play from deep, the spaces left by ascending fullbacks could leave the backline vulnerable to swift counters, another relatively frequent source of goals for opposition teams.
Whether or not Texas State will bring the game to UNT or play a more reactionary 90 minutes could set the trend for some tougher games down the line like the University of Texas, Texas Christian University, Texas A&M and the ever-intense derby against the University of Texas at San Antonio.
Texas State will face UNT at 1 p.m. on Feb. 28 at the Bobcat Soccer Complex.