Texas State women’s soccer is set to kick off its season Sept. 4 against SFA, hoping to return to championship form following an early first-round exit from the 2019 Sun Belt Championship Tournament.
The team’s last outing concluded with a 4-1 loss, defeated on penalty kicks, at the hands of Arkansas State. The loss resulted in an early exit from the Sun Belt Championship Tournament, capping off a 9-7-3 season. The Bobcats look to regroup after the departure of a highly decorated senior class, including forward Kaylee Davis, who became the first player in program history to earn a professional contract after signing with Serbian team ZFK Spartak.
Preseason training began Aug. 7 after the Sun Belt announced it would delay the start of the fall season, canceling all non-conference games for women’s soccer in the month of August including a marquee matchup against UT Austin and rival UTSA.
“[The] thing though that is going to kind of hurt us a bit is having those games in August be canceled,” Head Coach Kat Conner said. “Those were times when you got a chance to play all different players, for them to learn against players, against teams that demanded you to look at different styles, different formations, and they demanded you to learn something.”
Texas State is predicted to finish fourth in the Sun Belt; however, returning senior midfielder Mackenzie Smith says there is no easy game on the season schedule.
“Every single team in our conference is big, they’re all hard games,” Smith said.
Conner says the team’s preparation during the offseason was evident, with players returning in “pretty darn good shape.”
For some new players, adjusting to a more decentralized and selfless pattern of play takes some adjustments. For Conner, having every player contribute on and off the ball is just as crucial, if not more, than individual play. In both pressing and possession, Conner wants a sense of unity and trust.
“[We’re] still trying to build that trust amongst each other,” Conner said. “All these players come from the star of their club team or their high school team, and they were the go-to gal, whether it was offensively or defensively. And right now, we’re needing to build that trust that we’re all that go-to gal and that if you give a ball to somebody, you can get it back, so continue your run.”
Freshman goalkeeper Beth Agee noticed an increase in her overall pace and intensity from her high school and club level experience. She is confident in the progress her teammates have shown in practice.
“I could tell that the freshmen and I have grown and gotten a little bit better [and] a little bit faster,” Agee said.
Conner has the help of her more experienced players with guiding younger players through unfamiliar experiences that come with playing in college.
“[The seniors have] taken their arm around all the different freshmen and kind of helped to even find their classes [and] to understand that, ‘You’re going to go to class,’ or, ‘You’re going to at least log in to [Zoom for class],’” Conner said. “The senior class has been excellent during this preseason of trying to teach the freshmen the difference between high school and club.”
Agee says the chemistry of the team is due to the efforts of the older players.
“I feel more comfortable with this team that I have rather than high school or any other new team because this team actually talks to you, they help you and stuff like that,” Agee said. “Everyone is just a lot nicer, and it’s like I’ve already gotten a few like good relationships with some of them.”
COVID-19 still looms over collegiate athletics, but as long as it has the all-clear, Agee says the team plans to keep going.
“We’re definitely just waiting by the phone just getting that call, saying, ‘Oh, we can’t do this, can’t do that,’” Agee said. “That’s mainly the fear and the hope is that, you know, we just get to play. Even though it’s a shorter season we just want to play.”
Every new season brings on the potential for new distractions, but Conner says she is keeping her team focused.
“Every other day, it seemed like another conference was dropping out,” Conner said. “Ultimately, we’ve told them, you know what, the Sun Belt says we’re moving on, our university wants to move on, so we’re gonna approach this as we got a job to do, and that’s to win the Sun Belt Championship.”