Texas State soccer fought to the final whistle of their 2019 season to keep their tournament hopes alive, but fell 4-1 in penalty kicks to the Arkansas State Red Wolves in the first round of the Sun Belt Championship Tournament.
The Red Wolves later finished second in the tournament. The dramatic finish does not come as a surprise for many Bobcat fans, as everything this season has been difficult, hard-fought and often disappointing or underwhelming.
The team came into the season projected to go first in the conference, sweeping the Sun Belt’s preseason specialty awards and tallying five All-Sun Belt preseason projections.
Senior forward Kaylee Davis was nominated the Sun Belt Preseason Offensive Player of the Year and was even put on the MAC Hermann trophy watchlist, which awards the best collegiate soccer players in the country. Senior goalie Heather Martin was named the Sun Belt Preseason Defensive Player of the Year, and the team had high hopes of avenging their last-second fall to Little Rock that ended their goal at an NCAA tournament spot in 2018.
The team seemed set on track in the first four games of the season as well, going 4-0 to add to a nation-setting undefeated streak that had began in 2018.
What they came out with, however, was a team record-setting winless streak, a hopeful must-win final game of the regular season to qualify for the tournament, just two players getting regular season awards and a first-round exit in the Sun Belt Championship Tournament to finish the season. To say this season didn’t go as planned would be an understatement.
Head coach Kat Conner said that the season was especially taxing and unexpected for her and the team.
“We didn’t get everything we wanted out of it,” Conner said. “In my 21 years, I think this was the toughest season I’ve ever been through.”
The disappointment can be reflected in the team’s emotional responses as well as the stat board. This is Conner’s sixth worst season record at Texas State and the second worst since entering the Sun Belt Conference. To top it off, the seven-game winless and scoreless streak stripped the team back down to the basics in hopes of getting back on the win column.
The season wasn’t all doom and gloom, however, aside from their nation-setting win streak at the start of the season, the ‘Cats also saw Martin tie for 18th in Sun Belt history with 279 career saves as well as tie for the fourth most season shutouts in program history with seven.
Martin also tied for seventh in program history with 22 shutouts as a Bobcat. Texas State never fell by more than a single goal due to a stellar defensive play on the pitch.
On the offensive side of the ball, Davis paced the Sun Belt with five match-winning goals on the season and tied for third in program history with 72 points. Her performance earned her an All-Sun Belt Conference First Team selection alongside senior midfielder Jordan Kondikoff. Kondikoff held down the middle for the ‘Cats, acting as an “on-field coach” as well as racking up two goals of her own on the season. Her 5,412 minutes played marks etched her in at ninth in program history.
Whether it was the girls throwing their bodies at the ball in practice, Conner’s compelling motivational speeches, or the team finally getting those breaks they needed, the team finally broke their streak with a triumphant 5-0 win over the University of Louisiana at Monroe halfway through conference play.
As all great coaches do, Conner is already looking ahead to what the team will need to do to come back stronger next year. She said that strategy will be the new focus for the team coming into 2020.
“We need to focus more on our tactical side,” Conner said. “I think we will have to do better at understanding what other teams are trying to do to us.”
Conner is getting ahead of the loss of star players, including Davis, Martin, Kondikoff and senior defender Genesis Turman, and has a couple names in mind for Bobcat fans to start looking out for. Some current Bobcats are expected to fill their shoes, Conner said.
“I think you’re going to see Renny Moore step up. She was a great apprentice to Jordan (Kondikoff) in the middle and I’m really excited to see everything she learned from Jordie,” Conner said. “Ally Kewish will be a good spark plug that you will see being played a lot more.”
Other players including junior midfielder Mackenzie Smith, freshman midfielder Bailey Peschel and freshman forward/defender Kamaria Williams are names to look out for, Conner said.
“There’s no doubt about it, Mackenzie Smith has grit, a great drive and fire that is infectious, and I think we’re going to have to fan that flame to get the rest of the team to get that attitude and perseverance,” Conner said. “Peschel is a great young player who’s upside is just going to grow more and more. Kamaria Williams really came up strong at the end there playing with Kaylee and that is going to be really great looking for next year.”
Although it may appear that the team will hit a slump after losing key players, Conner said that the existing underclassmen as well as new recruits will bring the team back stronger than ever.
“We have some kids that I definitely think can come in and win some spots,” Conner said.
Texas State has already signed five players to join the team next year, including three forwards, a midfielder and a goalie.