Cultivating and nurturing an athletic program into a perennial championship contender is a tough task, but head coach Kat Conner has spent almost 19 years perfecting the formula.
Heading into her 19th year, Conner has built the Bobcats women’s soccer program into a success. Conner first came to Texas State in 1999 after working as an assistant coach for the Texas A&M Aggies from 1993-98, and for Pacific Lutheran University from 1991-92.
In 2015, Conner was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, which forced her to take a less physical coaching role. Conner said her battle with cancer has been trying, but she credits her players’ passion and energy for galvanizing her.
“After going through the cancer and battling through cancer, sometimes it wears me down,” said Conner. “When I go out there sometimes I’m like, ‘Man, I don’t know if I have this anymore,’ and then I see their passion and I see their fire and suddenly I got it. Their energy and passion ignite me.”
The first challenge Conner faced upon arriving at Texas State 19 years ago was putting together a team with the potential to be competitive. Conner looked to the club teams for the talent she needed to begin building what would become the foundation of the soccer program Bobcats see today.
“When I first got here, we didn’t have anybody to tell you the truth,” Conner said. “I just went to the club team. I had heard they had a great history of winning, even winning a club national championship. We pulled out I think about four or five of them and they really helped to bring that foundation.”
As a rookie head coach with a rookie program, it was hard for Conner to envision the future of the program. She knew one thing though: she was going to give her all to the girls she had brought together.
“I didn’t have any ideas of what we were going to do,” Conner admitted. “I had no vision other than I wanted to give my best to the program. Those young women just picked up and carried along with it and we accomplished a lot of great things.”
In their first year together, the then-Southwest Texas State women’s soccer team found immediate success as they made it to the first round of NCAA tournament.
Conner places much of the credit for the team’s strong first year on the lack of expectations and the raw hunger for success the team had.
“I think that was the beauty of it,” Conner said. “We didn’t have any expectations. We didn’t have any guidelines. We knew nothing really. We just knew that we were energetic and passionate, and we wanted to win.”
Since then, Coach Conner has notched 11 10-win seasons and is entering the 2018 season with a 195-159-27 record. Conner has led the Bobcats to four regular season conference championships, five conference tournaments and five NCAA tournament appearances.
The 2017 season saw the Bobcats continue their success, finishing the season 10-6-1 overall, with a conference record of 8-2-0. Despite a successful regular season, the Bobcats were eliminated in the first round of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament by Coastal Carolina in a double overtime showdown.
Armed with a coaching staff of fresh faces, Conner and company are focusing on remembering and learning from their past mistakes.
“I do think the coach has done a good job of reminding us that we don’t want to have that feeling of losing again and then preparing us each practice,” said Jordan Kondikoff, junior midfielder. “Kind of shaping our practices around what we can do to beat the team that week.”
To reach their goal, Conner demands the best from her athletes on and off the field and continually challenges them.
“She definitely challenges us every day and wants to see you do your best,” said Kelly Barbalias, senior midfielder. “She wants us to play well together but also play to the best of our abilities, so she definitely challenges us in that aspect.”
Despite a slow start to the 2018 campaign, Conner has full confidence in her team, aiming to get them ready for when momentum really counts.
“I don’t want this team to peak now, I don’t even want them to peak at the end of September,” Conner said. “I want them to be gaining speed each weekend and improving so by the end of October, we are peaking and we’re improving and we’re firing on all cylinders.”
The Bobcats will host their home games at the Recreation Soccer Fields, located between Speck street and the campus Rec center.