After a 2020 season full of ups and downs, Head Coach Kat Conner and the Texas State soccer team are hoping to learn from their mistakes and build on their successes during the offseason.
The Bobcats' season ended Nov. 2 in a heartbreaking overtime loss to the sixth and last-seeded Troy University in the first round of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.
The Bobcats dominated possession and resided in Troy’s half for almost the entirety of the game but could not find the back of the net, a reoccurring problem throughout the season. After the game went into overtime, Troy's freshman defender Erin Bloomfield cut through the Bobcats' defense and sent the game-winning goal into the net, ending Texas State's season.
As she has done after many losses this season, Conner pointed out the silver lining in the team’s performance.
“[The loss] hurt,” Conner said. “But I'm proud of them because sometimes you can play your best game; I thought it was one of our best games all season, to tell you the truth, other than not scoring. I know the players really did a good job of playing together.”
Several of the Bobcats’ games this season ended with last-second disappointment, such as the 1-2 loss to Stephen F. Austin State University in the first game of the season. The Bobcats lost four of the five overtime games they played this season.
After watching her team put in so much effort, consoling players became difficult for Conner with each loss.
“I think that was the hardest part, [just] sitting there trying to find that silver, positive lining out of each game when you knew they just gave so much and sacrificed so much,” Conner said. “As a coach, you want to change things for them, but ultimately you just got to find a positive for them to keep growing and keep learning and keep improving upon themselves.”
The season never really took off for the Bobcats, who won only one of their first eight games. Texas State did not win consecutive matches until the last two games of the regular season against the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and the University of Louisiana at Monroe.
The latter of the two games evened the conference record for the Bobcats at 4-4 on Senior Day. The two games were a part of a closing stretch in which the team won three of five.
Several times throughout the season, Texas State players found themselves in offensive situations with potential, often one-on-one with opposing keepers, but could not convert on the chances. Conner often mentioned the need for more clinical finishing.
Despite the team's struggles, players like freshman goalkeeper Beth Agee had a successful season. Agee led the nation with 69 saves and climbed to ninth in the program history in both season and career saves. She also led the team in total minutes played with 1327.
“This year with [COVID-19], I didn't get the full experience of how most college athletes get to play, but for the most part I loved it, and I can't wait to continue and do it again,” Agee said.
The defense was solidified as the season went on, not conceding any more than one goal in a game after defeating ULM for their second win of the season. Conner credited dynamism and quick adjustments by several players for the Bobcats' solid defensive play.
Offensive play was also a bright spot for the team. Freshman forward Olivia Wright's scoring run against Little Rock in which she dodged two defenders and fired a shot past the goalkeeper for a goal ended up as one of the top offensive plays of the season.
Sophomore forward/midfielder Kiara Gonzales brought toughness and width to the offense, as well as freshman forward/midfielder Haley Shaw, who Conner hopes can learn from Gonzales’ tutelage and add more talent down the flanks.
For seniors like forward Sydney Kammer, who led the team in scoring with three goals, the season was bittersweet. The loss to Troy was the last time Kammer and her fellow seniors would set foot on a soccer pitch at the collegiate level.
Senior midfielder Renny Moore, who jointly led the team in assists along with Wright and Gonzales, says the loss to Troy encapsulated the season for Texas State.
“I don't think anyone watching would disagree that we outplayed Troy and deserved to win; [we] just couldn't find a goal,” Moore said. “Just the way things happen sometimes we're a little unlucky. Just kind of the theme of the season, unfortunately, but I think we played really well. I think for me, as a senior, it was a little bit shocking because it's just all done at once.”
Conner regrets not sending the seniors off with a title but highlighted the pride she felt for their contributions, on and off the field, and the impact they made on their fellow players over the years.
“You just wish you could give them that Cinderella story but, ultimately, we just talk about what they give to us, and it is more than just what's on the scoreboard,” Conner said. “It's more about their character; it's about their leadership and how they've helped groom the players underneath them. That's the biggest thing that people need to know is that you have an opportunity to be a good impact on others... I think that our seniors do that, and that's what I'm most proud about.”
Conner is already looking forward to next season and rebuilding around a young core full of potential, along with four new arrivals for the spring 2021 semester.
“It'll be a little bit different because obviously, those seniors aren't with us, so you'll have to find the next identity of the team as it comes through,” Conner said. “There's a lot of good tools in the team there that we just need to bring out more. I think it'll be a dynamic team.”
Over the course of her 22 years at Texas State, resiliency has been key for Conner. In team sports like soccer, there are always people around to lend a hand when needed. Conner says the relationships formed with teammates go beyond the soccer pitch.
“Sometimes you get knocked on the ground because the outcome wasn't what you wanted, but then somebody is there next to you, a teammate picks you up,” Conner said. “I think that's what's special about sports. Looking back [to] when I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, childhood teammates came out and helped me, college teammates came out and helped me, former alumni that played through here helped me.
"Those times when you're down and out... those people come through, and that's the encouragement you need to keep persevering and keep working through the problems," Conner said.