After a devastating five-game scoreless drought and seven-game losing streak, Texas State soccer came back into their own to score a whopping five goals against ULM on Friday and seven goals over the weekend.
The two wins were the ‘Cats’ first conference victories, moving them up to 6-5-2 overall and 2-2-1 in the Sun Belt.
This year’s season has been a complete rollercoaster, with the Bobcats coming into the season with a nation-setting 17-match undefeated streak, a record they kept as they went 4-0 and kept up their preseason projections.
The season turned a quick 180, however, as the team suffered their first loss on their weekend out West against the University of Texas-El Paso. The loss proved devastating for the Bobcats, who were unable to recover for a win and only scored two goals in the next seven matches.
Texas State fans were left with many questions as their emotional strength was tested throughout the season: why so many highs and lows? What went so wrong? And most importantly, what did they do to come back with such ferocity?
The team started off with projections to win it all, racking up five All-Sun Belt preseason awards and sweeping the specialty awards. The Bobcats were projected to redeem their late-season upset last year and come back as defending regular season champions as well as be NCAA tournament contenders. After the tumultuous seven-match losing streak, to say the season hasn’t gone as planned would be considered an understatement.
When the Bobcats were deepest in their rut, the team was on the longest winless streak since they started conference play back in 2011.
With only two goals in the last seven games, it became evident that most of the issues came down to offense.
Head Coach Kat Conner said that there was more to it than just not being able to finish.
“We aren’t getting the breaks,” Conner said. “Some goalkeepers have caught balls between their legs, (and) I see other film when that isn’t happening. We’ve gotten less and less about making things happen.”
Despite their losses, Conner said the team was still playing with skill but was just lacking a certain intensity.
“We’ve played some very great soccer,” Conner said. “We’ve played some very finesse soccer. We look good moving the ball around. We’re gonna have to get a little bit grittier in front of the net and just get a little ugly sometimes.”
The stats back up her claim. The defense stayed strong throughout the slump, and the team never lost by more than a single goal. Three of the games were hard-fought through double overtime, and the Bobcats have usually won the stat board, something that senior midfielder Jordan Kondikoff said gave them hope.
“It’s no secret we’ve had a rough start to the conference,” Kondikoff said. “But the good news is, when you come out and watch the game, we’re pretty much dominating every single team. We’re just missing that last part of finishing. We’re obviously not happy with how things have gone, but we’re ready to pick up our heads.”
The team knows that they’re the same girls projected to win, they just needed to find a little more grit to get them there. But bouncing back from not being able to win a game in over a month isn’t always the easiest thing to do. Senior Kaylee Davis, the key scorer for the team, recognizes the pressure to finish has been put on her, proving she was up for the challenge as she broke through the scoreless streak with two of the team’s five goals against ULM. She cites lack of self-confidence as a key factor in her and the team’s bout of scorelessness.
“I’ve got to play quicker (and) I’ve got to shoot quicker,” Davis said. “Just be more confident.”
This season has been everything but easy for the team. From starting the season with a four-game winning streak going into September, and coming out of the month with 5 losses and 2 ties, most teams would feel like they were ready to hang up their cleats and start getting the team prepared for future seasons. Now off of a two-game win streak, the ‘Cats are back on track due to their mental toughness, Conner said.
“They’re doing things with a ‘whatever it takes’ mentality,” Conner said. “I want everyone to know that the Bobcats never quit. You can count on us to go out there and fight every day. When I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2015, I thought ‘oh gosh, it’s over,’ but you know what? You learn. You learn to pull your socks up and get grittier. You get tougher. This group, I’ve told them when the going gets tough you can either quit or you can get tougher. It’s definitely gritty, it’s definitely hard, but we’re going to get tougher.”
The team’s refusal to give up paid off in the whooping 5-0 victory against ULM as well as the 2-0 win at home against Appalachian State.
“I started to tell them ‘I think you’re trying to wait for that perfect situation to come up, instead, let’s just create situations to come up,” Conner said. “(They have) a little bit more focus, a little bit more ideas to go out and just create something. (They) quit trying to be perfect and instead (went) with the flow to see how it goes and I think that’s what they’re doing well.”
With only four games left to keep things turned around, the ‘Cats need to keep this new energy in order to have a chance at the Sun Belt Championship Tournament.
“Our backs are against the wall,” Davis said. “We’ve got to come out and win the rest of our games. We’re fighting for a tournament spot at this point.”
The ‘Cats will keep their fight alive as they continue conference play at home against Louisiana on Friday at 7 p.m.