The Texas State soccer team is gearing up for its 2014 run in the Sun Belt Conference as it looks to take the next step toward another NCAA Tournament appearance.
Texas State, the conference’s fourth seed, defeated Troy in overtime in the first tournament game last season. The top-seeded Western Kentucky Hilltoppers eliminated the Bobcats in the second round. The team finished the season with an 8-9-2 overall record and a 4-3-1 conference record.
“Last season was our third conference in three years,” Coach Kat Conner said. “It was a lot more athletic and a lot more physical then what we have seen. We have to rev up our athletic ability. Physically, we’re trying to get our players to understand that people are going to touch them, and the speed of the game has changed, so we have to play the ball quicker.”
Coach Conner is heading into her 15th season with the Bobcats after starting the women’s soccer program in 1999. Coach Conner has won nine championships (four regular-season, five conference) and has had led the Bobcats to five NCAA Tournament appearances.
“Right now we’re really trying to work on our mentality as a team,” senior midfielder Jourdan Brown said. “Mental toughness is the main key we’re trying to hit home through these two-a-days to take us through the season. Yeah, it’s hot out here, it’s tiring, we’re tired, but are we going to be able to be mentally tough after the ninth minute mark if we’re in overtime? That’s what we’re trying to teach the freshmen because we really want them on the field.”
The Bobcats have 18 returning players, including Tori Hale, senior forward, and Lynsey Curry, junior forward, who both earned second-team All-Conference honors after their performances last season. Curry and Hale started in 36 combined games for Texas State. Hale tied the all-time season record for assists with nine, while Curry led the team in goals with seven.
“Lynsey (Curry) is doing a great job,” Coach Conner said. “She’s taking on more responsibility. All spring I’ve told her as well as the team plays, she is going to play. Instead of taking the team on her back, she’s learning to be more patient and give her teammates the confidence to make plays but still be that ‘Michael Jordan-type player’ to finish games off for us.”
Senior defenders Brenna Smith, Michelle Bucy and Monica McEntee are back for the Bobcats. McEntee is working her way back from an injury. Smith started all 19 games for the Bobcats last season, while Bucy played in seven games, including four starts.
“Brenna (Smith) is back looking good,” Coach Conner said. “(Michelle) Bucy is focused as ever, and Kristen is playing with more confidence, so as a coach you’re excited because you’re finally a little bit older in the back.”
Also returning to the squad this year are a pair of senior midfielders: Ali Myers and Brown. Myers played in 18 games last season, including four starts. Brown played in all 19 games and also made four starts.
The Bobcats have depth in the midfield to compliment Brown and Myers. Landry Lowe, junior midfielder and sophomore midfielders Maddie Nichols, Madi O’Neal and Ali Jones are also returning. Jones will replace Sydney Curry, who tallied eight points last year.
“We made our goal that we want to be the first to score every game,” Brown said. “We want to hold the teams we play to less than a goal per game, and we want to score at least two goals per game, and if we can mentally stay on that track together, then we’ll do well.”
On the front line the Bobcats also return sophomore forwards Lauren Prater and Clarissa Leon, who combined for four goals and two assists last season. Prater played in all 19 games last season, including nine starts. Leon played in 16 games.
Caitlynn Rinehart, junior goalkeeper, replaces Natalie Gardini. Rinehart allowed four goals in four games as a sophomore.
The Bobcats have 10 freshmen on the roster, which will help add depth down the stretch and into the postseason.
“We have a great freshmen class that came in,” Brown said. “We have a lot that are going to do good things for us. It’s just getting them mentally prepared for (Division I) soccer, so we’re doing a lot of mental training as well as physical practice right now.”